Thursday, May 10, 2007

Brazil: Off With Their Heads!

Back down the rabbit hole today, the Queen of Hearts ... er, Keystone Kops ... uh, Brazilian Federal Police have delivered their verdict.

No mystery-novel surprise twists here: The American pilots dunnit! By God, we have 800 pages saying so. Furthermore, our wondrous 800-page report frequently employs the magic word "Forensic!" -- whatever the hell that means.

The following, translated by our Sao Paulo bureau chief, Richard Pedicini, is from Diario de Cuiaba, the newspaper published in the capital city of the state of Mato Grosso, where the collision took place.

(First, please do note the tricky language the wily authorities employ:

(The pilots "erred in not verifying" that the transponder was not signaling for 55 minutes before the crash. It is not a pilot's job to monitor the transponder, which gives no discernible alert when it flips off-line (which they often do). It is, however, the job of air traffic control -- which in this case was aware of the Legacy's non-signaling transponder for those 55 minutes and inexplicably failed to try to reach the pilots and tell them -- to be aware and to act.

(The transponder "was involuntarily turned off during the flight," which suggests that that pilots did it, and doesn't suggest (as ExcelAire says evidence does) that the damned thing might have been malfunctioning. And besides, everyone knows a transponder that wasn't signaling was not the primary cause of the accident, but rather that the transponder was the last potential fail-safe that possibly might have prevented it, once the two planes were placed on a collision course through a series of disastrous and utterly inexcusable errors on the ground.

(The "non fulfillment of the flight plan" ... Absurd and deliberately misleading. No pilot I have spoken with over the last 7 months, and I have spoken with dozens, says that a formal flight plan takes precedence over direct orders from air traffic control, unless the pilot has reason to believe the flight controller has lost his marbles, a la General Jack D. Ripper in "Dr. Strangelove." The pilots had absolutely no reason to believe the flight-control orders they were flying under -- to maintain 37,000 feet -- were "incorrect or improper," as the Queen of Hearts ... I mean, the Chief of Police, asserts.)

It's important to keep in mind that there are other investigations going on -- in Brazil's Congress, and in the Defense ministry, which is in charge of air traffic control and of course has not only the motive but the means and the opportunity keep the blame focused on the American pilots.

But also, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board and other independent and respected voices in world aviation have conducted their own detailed investigations that show, as you've been reading here all along, that the collision was caused by a series of catastrophic mistakes and breakdowns in Brazil's notoriously unsafe air-traffic control system.

I can't believe those agencies -- which are required by international aviation protocol to defer to investigative authorities in the nation where a crash takes place -- will continue indefinitely to sit back silently and allow the two American pilots to be railroaded, while the shockingly poor state of Brazil's air traffic control system -- which was called "unsafe and dangerous" in November by the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers Associations -- goes unaddressed.

Actually, some people in Brazil think the Federal Police's bumptious report is basically a ploy to quickly assign some official blame to the pilots and let it hang out there for as long as possible. It's not clear when the Federal Police might bring formal charges to top off their previous absurd charge, cobbled together in a rush in December on the day a federal court ordered the pilots released after 71 days, of "failing to ensure" the safety of Brazil's skies.

The Federal Police motivation, some believe, is to energize the slippery Brazilian media with renewed anti-American fervor, for political gain. There might also be a motive to provide a more solid platform to the lawyers representing huge lawsuit claims by the families of the Brazilian airliner victims, who are suing the Americans, of course, and whose representatives have said flatly that they will accept no verdict but that the Americans were criminally at fault.

Hey, one robs banks because that's where the money is, as Willy Sutton said. You ain't going to get much going after the Brazilian Defense Department.

So scapegoating the pilots for as long as possible conceivably serves a purpose till the actual true story is on the record, at some point down the road, by which time nobody in Brazil will believe anything anymore.

Well, you know the drill by now if you've been closely following this Bumble in the Jungle since early October. So please read on):

Flight 1907

End of the investigations

After 7 months, Federal Police delivers to Federal Court in Sinop 800 page inquiry on country's worst air disaster

In the report, Sayão accused only Paladino and Lepore, but recommended an investigation of air traffic control by the Air Force.
Of the news team

The Federal Police concluded the investigations into the accident involving the Gol Boeing 737-800 and the Legacy 600 business jet, which happened on September 29, 2006. The final report, with more than 800 pages, was delivered yesterday to the Federal Court in Sinop (500 kilometers from Cuiabá).

As already advanced by inspector Renato Sayão, who headed the inquiry, only the Legacy pilots, the North Americans Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Palladino, were pointed to as responsible for the largest tragedy in the history of Brazilian aviation, in which 154 people died.

According to an official note released by the Federal Police, Lepore and Paladino erred in not verifying the functioning of the aircraft's anti-collision system, the transponder and TCAS. The forensic exams showed that the system was involuntarily turned off during the flight.

"[The devices] were sent to the USA for tests in the factories and did not present defects (...) Besides this, after the collision, the transponder was turned on without problems and the emergency code activated", a stretch of the note points out.

Another failure related to the pilots' work is in respect of the non-fulfillment of the flight plan, which established three different altitudes between the airports of São José dos Campos (São Paulo) and Manaus (Amazonas). The Legacy, however, maintained the height of 37,000 feet until the collision with the Boeing.

"The rule says that always when the pilot receives an altitude or direction that he considers incorrect or improper for the aircraft's safety it is the pilots' duty to confirm and solicit additional information from Air Space Control."

The forensic reports indicate that the flight controllers in São José passed the pilots a provisional altitude, which should have been altered while passing over Brasilia (Federal District). "There was not a clear modification of the flight plan by Air Space Control."

According to the report, the Legacy's trajectory was monitored in the mode "Radar Vigilance" ("Vigilância Radar"), in which the pilots have autonomy to make the altitude changes. "This is different from the service of "Radar Vectorization" (" Vetoração Radar") in which the change of altitude is the responsibility of Air Traffic Control".

The investigation proved that Lepore and Palladino had difficulty in communicating with air traffic control in Brasilia during about an hour. But, in this case too, the pilots did not follow the safest procedure.

"The pilots should have activated the code for communication failure 7600. If this procedure had been taken, the pilots would have perceived that the transponder was off", said the Federal Police, which recognized as "fundamental" the forensic reports produced by the National Criminalistic Institute. (INC).

CONTROLLERS – On the eventual participation of the air traffic controllers in the episode, the report points out that failures had been detected and "noncompliance with the applicable rules of Air Space Control".

By telephone, the inspector explained that the decision to investigate this hypothesis was up to the Air Force or the Military Prosecutors' Office. "This will take place starting when they learn what we have found. In this case, there will be a need for a new investigation, from the moment of takeoff."


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