Yeah, I know, we're well past the time when that's an appropriate greeting, but I've been sidetracked -- family death and illness, continuing Brazil fallout, gray-sky winter ennui, you name it.
However, there is a bit of information to catch up on about Brazil that I have been remiss in not following since New Years. Sadly, that family illness and other issues prevented me from attending a dinner in which the Amazon 7 -- the seven of us who inexplicably walked away from that horrendous mid-air collision in Brazil Sept. 29 -- were to have gathered last week for dinner in New York (so it was the Amazon 6 without me). It would have been the first reunion of us all. We became close friends during the ordeal, and I was sad to have missed them. Next time around, guys.
Meanwhile, the American pilots remain in legal peril in Brazil, six weeks after they were allowed to return home -- accused at the last minute of a crazy, cobbled-together charge of "failing to ensure the safety of Brazilian air space" -- after being detained there for 70 days.
By the spring, I intend to re-fashion this blog in line with its original intent before I was so rudely interrupted 37,000 feet over the Amazon. That intent was for it to be a breezy, informative, opinionated and humorous look at business and leisure travel, through my own eyes and through the eyes of the people who do it, like Tim Williams, the alligator wrangler at Gatorland in Orlando who travels with his gators in a big duffel bag (they like it that way, he says). Travel, let's face is, is often funny, even when it's presenting you with major challenges, such as how to get a wriggling duffel bag with an alligator inside up to your room in a hotel elevator with anxious fellow-passengers wondering what's thrashing around in the bag. "Oh, that's just Mother," one of Tim's travel companions told one of those anxious couples in one fancy hotel. "She hates to travel."
Travel is not funny, of course, when tragedy occurs, as it sometimes can on the road. So bear with me for a week or two while I sort out what has occurred in Brazil regarding the accident in the weeks that I've been A.W.O.L. from the blog.
It's still been apparent that Brazilian police and military officials want to blame the American pilots for the crash, and cover up (or at least downplay) the egregious faults of both the Brazilian air traffic controllers and the Brazilian civil ATC system itself, which is operated by the military. But at least we're getting to the point where the Brazilian authorities no longer shriek in denunciation, and invoke the creeping shadow of American imperialism, when someone points out that their ATC system is in very sorry need of major repair and reorganization, and that every international pilot who flies the Brazilian skies knows it.
As always, I owe a great amount to the indefatigable Richard Pedicini in Brazil for his generosity in translating the Portuguese press for me. This is from the Cuiaba Gazeta, the newspaper in the city where we underwent all-night federal police interrogation after being flown from the jungle air base where we made our harrowing emergency landing and were detained for a day and night after the crash.
DA accuses nation's air system
Federal prosecutor Thiago Lemos de Andrade said yesterday that the Brazilian air traffic control system failed in the accident between the Legacy 600 jet and the Gol Boeing on September 29 of last year, and that the failures contributed to the Brazilian aviation's worst disaster, which took the lives of 154 people. He pointed out that the Federal Police inquiry has elements to place responsibility on the pilot and co-pilot of the Legacy, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino, already accused by the PF, but it is still not possible to indict them, as it is unclear what crime they committed, whether intentional ("doloso") or unintentional. The Federal Police accusation was for having placed in danger the Brazilian air traffic system.
The prosecutor, who filed a brief favorable to the Federal Police's request to extend the inquiry, suggesting that it be for 30 days, asked for a series of investigations needed to resolve the Federal Prosecution Office's doubts. Yesterday, the Federal Court in Sinop said that the prosecutor's brief had not yet reached the judge's chambers.
As to the flight controllers' responsibility for the accident, the prosecutor said that he did not want to express an opinion, since if a military controller is responsible, the case would have to be judged by the Military Courts. "What I can say is that the air traffic control service, as a governmental activity, was flawed, and failed", adding that "an accident of this nature cannot be attributed to a single person."
The prosecutor went on to emphasize that, even if the pilots had erred, if the air traffic control system had been functioning correctly, the accident could have been avoided. "There were a series of failure in the air control system that contributed to this tragedy", he completed.
[MY NOTE: WHEN THEY REFER TO POSSIBLE PILOT ERROR BY THE AMERICANS, THEY ARE REFERRING TO INDICATIONS THAT THE LEGACY'S ELECTRONIC TRANSPONDER, WHICH COMMUNICATES WITH THE GROUND AND TRIGGERS AN ANTI-COLLISION SYSTEM, MAY NOT HAVE BEEN TRANSMITTING PROPERLY. THIS IS NOT SOMETHING A PILOT WOULD NORMALLY BE AWARE OF UNLESS NOTIFIED, AND IT IS THE RESPONSIBILITY OF AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL TO ADVISE A PILOT THAT A TRANSPONDER ISN'T SIGNALING. EVIDENCE SHOWS THAT THE AIR TRAFFIC CONTROLLER HANDLING THE LEGACY FROM BRASILIA -- A YOUNG MILITARY MAN WHO HAD BEEN PROMOTED TO A PROVISIONAL SPOT FROM BEING AN INTERN ONLY 5 DAYS EARLIER -- FAILED TO NOTICE FOR 50 MINUTES THAT THE LEGACY'S TRANSPONDER SIGNAL WASN'T BEING RECEIVED, EVEN AS THE LEGACY FLEW ON AT ITS AUTHORIZED ALTITUDE, 37,000 FEET, IN A COLLISION PATH WITH A GOL 737 THAT BRAZIL AIR TRAFFIC CONTROL HAD LOST IN A RADAR AND RADIO COMMUNICATIONS BLIND ZONE OVER THE AMAZON.]
As to the pilots, the prosecutor said that there are still doubts about their degree of responsibility and for this reason, today, he would not indict the North Americans. However, he affirmed that he thinks it unlikely that Lepore and Paladino will not be indicted. "I agree with the accusation made by the Federal Police, but to find a charge that fits, more information is still missing." [MY NOTE: DO NOTE THE PHRASE 'TO FIND A CHARGE THAT FITS.']
On the freeing of the pilots, Thiago Lemos believes that, if they had remained in Brazil, the investigation would be "easier", even though there are instruments to facilitate getting evidence from the United States, if needed. "Their absence will provoke a longer delay if they are indicted and, principally, in serving a sentence, if one is applied."
Among the investigations solicited by the prosecutor are the autopsy reports on the victims, the complete translation to Portuguese of the content of the Legacy's black box, the testimony of the Amazonian tower's flight controllers, and the experts reports which determine if the transponder was turned off intentionally or accidentally by the pilots. [MY NOTE: NO RESPONSIBLE PILOT WOULD INTENTIONALLY TURN OFF A TRANSPONDER. THE ONLY REASON FOR DOING THAT WOULD BE AN ATTEMPT TO CONCEAL INAPPROPRIATE FLYING, LIKE DOING STUNTS AND AERIAL MANEUVERS. I WAS ON THE PLANE WHEN WE COLLIDED WITH THE 737 AND AS I HAVE SAID TILL I AM BLUE IN THE FACE, WE WERE FLYING STEADILY AND SMOOTHLY IN AN UTTERLY NORMAL MANNER).
The prosecutor went on to affirm that the Federal Prosecutor's office has underway a civil inquiry to investigate the defects of the Brazilian air traffic control system and, later, propose corrective actions, if necessary. This procedure is being presided by prosecutor Gustavo Nogami. "If it's verified that there are defects, there may be a court action." [MY NOTE: 'IF' IT IS VERIFIED THAT DEFECTS EXIST. IT IS INDISUPITABLE! BACK DOWN THE AMAZON RABBIT HOLE WE GO. WHEEEEE.]