Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Brazil: What the Chief MEANT to Say Was ...

I've tried my level best since early October to keep you informed on the situation in Brazil, as the Federal Police, Air Force, Congress and God knows who else stumble all over each other trying to avoid facing the fact that the horrific Sept. 29 mid-air collision was caused by breakdowns and human errors at Brazil's air-traffic control, which is run by the military.

Stories keep changing, depending on perceptions of how the latest one has been conveyed to and perceived by the public.

Here's the latest, reflecting the way the wind was blowing yesterday, a few days after widespread derision greeted the announcement by the Federal Chief of Police, 800-page police report in hand, that the police were interested only in filing charges against the two American pilots, and that any action against the air traffic controllers (you know, the ones who put these two airplanes on a collision course at 37,000 feet over the Amazon) was the responsibility of the Defense Department.

News from various sources:

"Federal Police marshal accuses pilots an air traffic control in CPI

Renato Sayão suggests launching military inquest to investigate failures by controllers

According to the police marshal [chief], Legacy pilots are unlikely to be convicted, due to the fact that the accident is classified as manslaughter

Silvio Navarro, Leila Suwwan – from the Brasília branch

In the first deposition of the Air Blackout CPI (my note: that's one of several Congressional investigations being conducted concurrently with police, military and other investigations) Federal Police marshal Renato Sayão said that, even though he indicted only the pilots of the Legacy that collided with Gol’s Boeing on September 29th, he believes the blame for the accident “can be shared” with air traffic control, and suggested launching a military inquest to investigate the failures of controllers.

“It is possible to split the blame for the accident between the failure of airspace navigation and the conduct of the pilots”, he summed up.

In a session that lasted approximately five hours, Sayão explained the reasons that led him to conclude that there was a “crime without intent against the safety of air transportation”, a crime that is classified in the Penal Code (equivalent to manslaughter). The inquest was sent to the Public Prosecution, which decides whether or not to bring formal charges.

The collision between the ExcelAire Legacy and the Gol Boeing left 154 dead – the worse aviation disaster in the country. The Legacy pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino ... deny recklessness or negligence and blame the failures of air traffic control. If they were convicted, they would be sentenced to 1 to 12 years of prison. “But the crime is one of no intent, and no one is likely to be arrested for it”, said Sayão.

Pressured by the opposition, Sayão explained that he did not go deeper in the investigation of the controllers because they are military personnel. But he said that the Air Force sergeants did not follow the rules. “The conduct of the pilots all by itself would have been reason enough for the accident”. [My note: Hate to dispute the esteemed Chief of Police, but not a single responsible, independent observer of this fiasco believes that to be true. If the two airplanes had not been put on a collision course at 37,000 feet by direct action of air traffic control, and if ATC radar, radio and other on-ground systems had been working properly, this collision would simply not have occurred.]

According to Sayão, the pilots “turned off, unintentionally”, the transponder (equipment that ensures the operation of the anti-collision system. “Turning it off intentionally would be suicide”. {My note: It is not in dispute that the transponder was not signaling for 55 minutes before the crash (a failure that air traffic control was aware of and did nothing about before the collision). It is in serious dispute about why the transponder was off. ExcelAire has said that it learned well after the crash that transponder equipment in the new airplane had previously been repaired for flaws. Now, it could be that one of the Legacy pilots somehow inadvertently caused the transponder to go off-line, but no one has produced evidence for that. Also, the transponder's suddenly coming back on-line at the precise point of impact is consistent with a theory that a loose connection could have been part of the scenario. I am glad to see the authorities for the first time explicitly rule out the absurd notion -- first advanced by the Brazilian Defense Minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires, -- that the pilots might have intentionally turned off the transponder.}

The police marshal also revealed a new piece of evidence, an interrogation through the telephone with the pilots, conducted by the commander of Cindacta-4 (Manaus) soon after the Legacy landing. When he asked if the anti-collision system was turned on, the pilots answered in the negative. Then, they changed their story, saying that the system was turned on. [My note: Various comments made by the two rattled pilots after the collision have been regularly taken out of context by Federal Police and the Brazilian news media from the cockpit voice recorder tapes. The comments -- in a recording that's not of perfect quality and could arguably cause a listener to not precisely differentiate between the words "on" and "off" -- prove nothing except that a dire emergency was being played out as the pilots struggled to bring down their damaged plane with a wing that was in bad and worsening shape.]


Police marshal blames controllers and Legacy pilots

In dialogue, pilot says transponder was turned off

Maria Lima and Isabel Braga

Brasília – The first person summoned to testify at the Air Blackout CPI in the House of Representatives, police marshal Renato Sayão, from the Federal Police, confirmed yesterday that the investigations about the accident with Gol’s Boeing 737-800 point towards the responsibility of the Legacy jet pilots, Jan Paladino and Joe Lepore. Sayão also said that the Brazilian flight controllers who were on duty at Cindacta-1, in Brasília, have part of the blame as well for the accident. In four hours of deposition, he revealed for the first time a compromising dialogue between the commander of the Cindacta in Manaus and the pilots soon after they landed at the Air base of Cachimbo. The dialogue indicates that the TCAS (transponder, anti-collision equipment) of the aircraft of American ExcelAire was turned off when the collision happened.

According to Sayão, still under the impact of the mid-air collision, when questioned by the commander of Cindacta IV, lieutenant-colonel Carcavalo, he repeated four times that the TCAS was turned off. But the noise of a conversation in English at the background of the recording shows that he changed his version and started to deny the statements.

“Was your flight leveled?”, asks Carcavalo

“Leveled at 370 (37 thousand feet)”, answers the pilot, always in English. (My note: That would be cause English is the mandated language of aviation all over the world. One of many problems in this accident was the well-known lack of minimal English-language skills by many badlyly trained, underpaid and poorly supervised air traffic controlers in Brazil.)

“Was the TCAS on?”

“No”, says the pilot

“No???”, says the commander, surprised.

“TCAS is off”, confirms the pilot.

Then, there is some noise in the recording and the police marshal suspects that it was someone talking in English telling the pilot to change his story. Soon after he says:

“TCAS is on”

Sayão said that many forensics analyses were performed (My note: Forensics my foot. Don't forget, I was there. After the Legacy landed in the jungle, military people, police and outsiders were crawling all over it for days, pulling out equipment and doing tests. Since this was being regarded even at that early point as a criminal investigation, that plane was a potential "crime scene" as it might have been secured by the Keystone Kops) , but it was impossible to prove that there was a third voice telling the pilot to change his story. But another conversation between the two American pilots, extracted from the Legacy’s black box, shows that the two perceived that the transponder and the TCAS were turned off at the moment of the collision. And they managed to turn it back on between the collision and the descent at Sierra of Cachimbo. (My note: the recording says no such thing. The transponder came back on of its own volition) The Legacy passed through Brasília with the equipment turned on, but they were later turned off. (Again, note the chronic sloppiness of the reporting language: "were later turned off" fails to allow for the stronger possibility that the transponder "shut off."

-The conclusion is that the turning off was an involuntary act, perhaps due to ineptitude. Doing it voluntarily would be suicidal.

It was the first time that a Brazilian authority admitted that the responsibility for the accident must be shared by the pilots and the controllers. In the Federal Police report sent to the Public Prosecution, Sayão asked for the indictment of Lepore and Paladino for manslaughter ...


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