Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Brazil: Documentary Preview

On June 10, the Discovery Brazil channel is broadcasting a dramatization/documentary of the Sept. 29 mid-air collision over the Amazon.

Here is a link to a short preview now being shown in Brazil. It's in Portuguese, of course. Three things struck me immediately:

1. The actors playing Brazilian air traffic controllers, when they do speak English, speak it well. We know many actual air traffic controllers do not, and the inability of many of them to communicate adequately in the lingua franca of international aviation is one of the reasons pilots are wary of Brazilian air-traffic control.

2. The actor playing me sitting in the interior cabin simulation of the collision-bound Legacy 600 actually bears a striking resemblance to me (they couldn't get Tom Cruise, I hear), except he needs a haircut and he's already dropped the 25 pounds I put on during hard-core traveling over the last 8 years. So I can go off that diet I'm on, especially if they got the same guy to play me in the actual on-camera interview I did with Discovery.

3. The program was previewed for relatives of the 154 people who died when the Gol 737 crashed into the Amazon. They liked it. Their strong position is that the American pilots, who were indicted in Brazil last week, were chiefly responsible for the crash, which we know is not true.

Anyway, here's the G1 walk-up to the Discovery Brazil channel piece.

Its producer, Alan Tomlinson, told me he had extraordinary cooperation from Brazilian authorities, especially the military authorities who run air traffic control. Discovery Brazil was allowed to film and do re-creations at Brazilian air traffic control centers, and had other extraordinary access. It seemed to me when I met him two months ago that Tomlinson, a respected documentary producer, had really done his homework. Now that he's turned it in, we'll see.

Translation from our Sao Paulo bureau chief Richard Pedicini:

Discovery launches film with behind the scenes of Gol accident

Documentary heard authorities, survivors and controllers' representatives.
Families were moved by film presented this morning.
Glauco Araújo of G1, in São Paulo

The Discovery Channel launched this Tuesday the 29th the documentary "The tragedy of Flight 1907", which shows the behind-the-scenes of the accident and the sequence of facts that caused the crash of the Gol Boeing, on September 29, 2006 in the north of Mato Grosso. The 154 people who were aboard the Gol Boeing died.

The Boeing crashed after colliding with a Legacy jet. The jet managed to land at Cachimbo Air Base, in the south of Pará.

The documentary will be shown on television in close to thirty countries on June 10.

The film shows the testimony of Brazilian authorities who participated in the accident investigation. Interviews were also done with some of the relatives of the 154 fatal victims, with passengers in the Legacy, who survived the accident, and with representatives of the air traffic controllers.

The documentary shows a simulation of the moment of collision between the Boeing and the Legacy jet and presents dramatizations, based on official transcripts, of the attitudes of the Legacy pilots, the North Americans Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, of the air traffic controllers and of the jet's passengers.

The two North American pilots were not heard in the documentary.

[Photo, two ghostlike planes colliding.]

[Photo Credit:] Release
[Photo Caption:] Simulation shows moment of collision between Gol Boeing and Legacy jet (Publicity Photo)

According to Michella Giorelli, the documentary's production director, the film took six months to finish. "There were three months of research and another three for post-production. We filmed for three weeks in Brazil and for another week in the United States, in New York and Los Angeles, were the animations and part of the dramatizations were done."

Michella said that 35 hours of film was registered, of which 20 are interviews. "The media was a strong inspiration for the creation of the documentary." The film was produced by Tomlinson de Onis Productions.


The documentary on the Gol accident is part of a series of productions on aviation accidents around the world. One of them, "Aviation Disaster: how to get out alive", shows that in 60% of aviation accidents there are survivors. In the production "The Tenerife Disaster", Discovery will portray another airplane accident that happened in the Los Rodeos Airport, in Tenerife, in the Canary Islands.


Friends and families of the victims of the Gol accident were moved on watching the documentary "The tragedy of Flight 1907", this Tuesday morning. The film was previewed for representatives of the victims' relatives at the Hotel Intercontinental, in São Paulo.

"It was very moving. The story of the documentary is very exact [pontual] over what occurred", said Jorge André Cavalcante, president of the Association of Relatives of Victims of the Gol Accident. He saw the film in the company of Neusa Filipeto Machado, who is also a member of the association.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Brazil: Pilots and 4 Controllers Indicted

Translation by our Sao Paulo bureau chief, Richard Pedicini:

By G1, in São Paulo, with information from RMT On Line

"The two pilots of the Legacy jet and four air traffic controllers were indicted today by the Federal Prosecutor Thiago Lemos de Andrade before the Federal court in Mato Grosso.

They were charged as being responsible for the accident which provoked the crash of the Gol Boeing, on September 29, 2006, in Mato Grosso. The 154 people who were aboard the airliner died. The Legacy and the Boeing collided in midair. The Legacy managed to land at the Serra do Cachimbo air base in the south of the state of Pará.

For the prosecutors' office, the "imprudence and negligence" of North American pilots Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino justified the indictment (formal accusation) against them. Lemos [asserted] that the six [the two pilots and four air-traffic controllers] had provoked the collision of the two aircraft in midair.

Military Justice prosecutor Giovanni Rattacaso [who works for the military] said that the case should continue under the civilian courts. "As soon as I receive the indictment, I will do an analysis of conflict of jurisdiction. Preliminarily, I can say that I understand that there is no need to bring the case to the military sphere."


I talked today with Joel R. Weiss, an attorney in Long Island for the pilots. He issued issued this statement today:

"The accident of Sept. 29 was a terrible tragedy and today the prosecutor's charges against the pilots compounds that tragedy. It is an injustice to charge the pilots, who are innocent of any crime. They obeyed the altitude clearance given to them by Air Traffic Control and followed all international aviation regulations."

Mr. Weiss continued, "There are currently Congressional hearings in Brazil investigating the aviation crisis. Yesterday, it was reported that the Report Referee of the Aviation Crisis [congressional investigative panel], Marco Maia, said: "'If the controllers had adopted standard [aviation] procedures, there would not have been an accident." [My italics]

Mr. Weiss said, "Aside from being unjust, the prosecutor's charges are also premature, as the professional investigation by CENIPA (the Center for Investigation of Aeronautical Accidents) is still underway."


And so, Brazil's Keystone Kops have made their move. But it came with a surprise, in that the Federal Prosecutor also decided to indict four Brazilian air traffic controllers, one of them on a felony count of intentional negligence. The two pilots and four controllers, the prosecutor said, together caused the disaster.

No one else.

The next step is expected to be that the federal judge whom they rushed this case to in forlorn Sinop, 400 miles north of Cuiaba in Mato Grosso, and a few hundred miles south of the collision site near the southern border of the state of Para, will rubber-stamp the indictment for trial.

However, this is Brazilian politics, in a country that was a military dictatorship till just 25 years ago, and strange things happen Down the Rabbit Hole.

After all, it came as a surprise to see the four controllers accused along with the two American pilots. The prosecutor, not the Federal Police, is widely believed to have decided at the last minute to add the controllers to the accusation, after it had become clear to well-tuned political ears in Brazil that domestic and international public opinion would react strongly against indicting only the Americans, when all of the evidence points to systemic and human failures in air-traffic control as the cause of the crash.

Mr. Pedicini of our Sao Paulo bureau wonders about that:

"At the last possible moment, the controllers are named. The prosecutor holds different views than the police? Or is it he wants to keep hold of the case, so that he can mismanage it in Sinop, MT [Mato Grosso], Pop. 100,000, far from the eyes of the press and the world, rather than letting Rattacaso get his hands on the controllers? The principal goal of all of this is to facilitate the civil suits in the United States. It is not about anything else at all. If the prosecutor can get the controllers acquitted and the pilots convicted -- or if he's mangled the indictment so that it will be accepted against the pilots, but not the controllers - then he's placed someone well on the path to a big payday," Mr. Pedicini says.

One takes nothing at face value down the rabbit hole, I would add. I agree that immense public pressure is coming from relatives of the 154 victims, who want to scapegoat the pilots alone, and to ensure that the civil cases are tried in the United States, where the money is, and not in Brazil, where the likelihood of getting a big payout from the Defense Department, which runs all air-traffic control, is slim to none.

Meanwhile, I was intrigued at the the prosecutor's statements at a press conference this afternoon that -- yes, by golly, -- there was something to all that talk about blind spots and dead zones in radio and radar coverage in regions over the Amazon (as I had been saying for seven months, creating violent denunciations against me in Brazil and from the bumbling Defense Minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires, whose department runs air traffic control and, of course, has its hands on its budget).

But since the Keystone Kops' brilliant investigation has now "found" that there are known blind spots and dead zones (the Brazilian military has always forcefully asserted that to talk of blind zones and radar holes was a calumny against the honor of Brazil) -- well, that just makes the suspects MORE GUILTY, the esteemed prosecutor argued, employing true "Alice in Wonderland" logic.

"It is evident that there are blind spots in air space. This only aggravates the conduct, because they knew that the aircraft was entering into a critical area," Andrade said. He emphasized that it was proved in the investigation that in that stretch radio and radar function precariously.

(My note: "It was proved in the investigation?!!" Hey, Keystone Kops: As I have been reporting since the day I got out of Brazil, every pilot who flies in Brazil is fully aware of the blind spots and the bad communication (both technological and human.). Respected international aviation organizations have also been pointing this out. In November, IFATCA -- the International Federation of Air Traffic Control Associations -- issued a report warning that Brazil's air-traffic controllers , especially around Brasilia an the adjacent Amazon region (where the collision occurred), work in "an unsafe and dangerous system." Great police work: the Keystone Kops have finally done their investigation and found out, months after everyone in the world with the brain of a turnip already knew it, that there are big ATC problems in Brazil. But rather than holding t0 account the military brass responsible for those problems, they blame a handful of working stiffs.)

Here is a link to that IFATCA report. By the way, for those of you planning to fly in South America, IFATCA also recently expressed some serious concerns about Argentina's air-traffic control system, too.

Here's a link to the March IFATCA magazine special explaining in detail how the accident occurred. The International Federation of Airline Pilots also issued a recent condemnation of the way Brazil has conducted its investigation. And here is another copy of the link to the detailed report ExcelAire sent to the Federal Police last month, outlining the elements of the case that are not in dispute.

Back to the jungle: Oddly missing today in this dash to Sinop court was any real discussion of Brazil's busted-valise of an air-traffic control system, and of those who are responsible for it, the Brazilian military, however.

For months, the Federal Police have been rushing to obtain criminal indictments, even though several governmental and independent investigations are still looking into the multiple causes of the crash, and even though international pilots' and other aviation organizations have issued stern warnings about criminalizing aviation accidents, especially those that are still under investigation.

The federal prosecutor based the indictment on a 44-page Federal Police report that most people following this story -- beyond the Brazilian government and military, that is -- believe was a monumentally flawed attempt to cover up the actual causes of the disaster.

The surprise indictment of four controllers on the ground was seen as a maneuver to deflect charges that the Federal Police were determined to railroad the Americans only, and avoid any action against controllers, who are military personnel.

Warning (which ought to be mandatory in journalism in situations like this): I don' t yet have a full grasp of the nuance of what happened today in the godforsaken city of Sinop (pop. 100,000), 400 miles north of Cuiaba, the capital of Mato Grosso. The people I know in Brazil who have been following this case are wondering why one air traffic controller seems to be defined as a principal culprit, after the pilots. WTF is going on there?

Moreover, it's unclear how Brazil's air-traffic controllers in general will react to the criminal charges against their four colleagues, and the precedent this sets, as well as the announcement that the controllers will face trial in a civilian court.

For months after the disaster, air traffic controllers staged repeated protests that virtually shut down Brazil's air traffic system for days at a time. The job actions were presented as protests of poor working conditions and bad pay, inadequate supervision and training, and antiquated and unsafe equipment at air-traffic control centers. But they were also seen in a political context -- as clear warnings to the government of what the controillers could do if blame for the disaster shifted their way.

On Dec. 8, when a Brazilian court ordered the Americans released from Brazil after they were detained without charge for 71 days following the accident, Federal Police hastily cobbled together the accusation that is now, six months later, the basis for the indictment. Just before leaving Brazil, the pilots were required to sign a statement in Portuguese saying they agreed to cooperate in future investigations.

The Federal Police have produced no evidence that the American pilots did anything wrong. The police charges are based exclusively on the assertion that the signal of the American plane's transponder -- a secondary locator device that also triggers an anti-collision alert if another plane is approaching-- was not being received on the ground, and that the pilots failed to make themselves aware of that.

Air traffic control, on the other hand, is required to monitor an aircraft's transponder, and the evidence is not in dispute that controllers had clear indications for 55 minutes before the collision that the air-traffic control center handling the flight was not receiving a signal from the Legacy 600 business jet's transponder. The air traffic control operators handling the Legacy (there were two because a shift change occurred) did not attempt to notify the business jet about the problem, as they are required to do.

It also is not in dispute that Brazilian air-traffic control had the two airplanes -- the Legacy business jet and an oncoming Gol 737 airliner with 154 aboard -- cleared on a collision course at 37,000 feet over the Amazon. Nor is it in dispute that Brazilian air traffic control lost contact at times with both the Legacy and the Gol in the infamous "dead zones" over the Amazon where radar and radio coverage is spotty at best.

Here is an earlier story today predicting the charges against the pilots (but not the controllers):

Indictment of Legacy pilots offered today
If court accepts prosecutor's recommendation, they will become defendants in a criminal case
Bruno Tavares, BRASILIA

Federal prosecutor Thiago Lemos de Andrade will offer today to the Federal Court of Mato Grosso the indictment (formal accusation) against American pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino. The two conducted the Legacy jet that on September 29 collided with a Gol Boeing 737-800, killing 154 people. The indictment will be delivered today to judge Murilo Mendes, head of the judicial subsection of Sinop (MT). If the magistrate accepts the Federal prosecutor's indictment, the pilots will become defendants in a criminal case which will investigate their responsibility in the aviation accident.

Before they returned to the United States on December 8, Lepore and Paladino had already been accused by the Federal Police for "exposing an embarkation or aircraft to danger," unintentionally. If they are convicted of the crime, the two are subject to a penalty of from 4 to 8 years of reclusion. [MY NOTE: Our Sao Paulo bureau chief Mr. Pedicini notes that the newspaper is wrong here: "For unintentional, it's 4 years of "detention", which is an alternate penalty like a halfway house or community service. "Reclusion" is prison, but that's only for intentional."]

Despite the accusation of the pilots having been made at the end of last year, it was only on the 7th of this month that the Federal Police concluded their investigations. In a 41-page report, Federal police inspector Renato Sayão Dias maintained the decision to hold the American pilots responsible for the accident.

However lawyer Theodomiro Dias Neto, the criminal lawyer heading the team defending Lepore and Paladino, reacted against the Federal Prosecutor's decision. "It is an absurdity that the press knows of this beforehand," the pilots' lawyer protested. "In any event, it seems to me premature to offer an indictment without first knowing the result of the technical investigation which is being done by Cenipa (Center for the Investigation and Prevention of Aeronautic Accidents."

Sought yesterday by O Estado, the Federal prosecutor did not want to advance the content of his manifestation. But, during six months of police investigation, Andrade had already demonstrated the conviction that the accident had been caused, in large part, by human error. Although he had 15 days to emit his opinion, he finished the work in only four days. "I know the inquiry well", he admitted.

The Federal Prosecutors' Office and the Military Prosecutors' Office (MPM) are still discussing if the four flight controllers cited in the Federal Police inquiry will be named in the same process or if the investigation will be conducted in the military sphere.

In the preliminary evaluation of military prosecutor Giovanni Rattacaso, there are already elements to indict the professionals for involuntary homicide doubly aggravated (inobservance of craft or profession and multiple victims).


Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Evening News...Philly Cheese-Steaks??

I'm not being smug when I say I haven't watched network television news in ages. It's not as if I'm reading Proust or the Economist instead.
Actually, I'm likely to be TiVo'ing "Reno 911," the "Daily Show" or the "Colbert Report" to watch later.

But the other day, while feeding the parrots, I did accidentally catch the last 15 minutes of the CBS Evening News, and I must report that my jaw dropped at how fatuous it had become. No wonder they're sobbing about the ratings.

For some reason (oh ... ratings) the program was being broadcast from Philadelphia, with the Katie Couric's preternaturally pastel visage centered against the backdrop of the Philadelphia skyline as seen from the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art -- you know, that venerable institution best known for the scene of Sylvester Stallone's triumphant arm waving in "Rocky." For a while, there was even a statue of Mr. Stallone's Rocky looming on the landing above the steps. I am happy to say it has been moved elsewhere.

Obviously, the idea on the CBS News was to present Ms. Couric in the same setting and with the same implications as Rocky -- a come-from-behind fighter, bound for glory.

Now, I have a friend who knows Mr. Stallone well, and he is said to be a genuinely nice man: self-effacing, courteous and generous. Over a decade ago, while on a book promotion, I encountered Ms. Couric on the set of the "Today" show. Let's just say that she did not strike me as a nice person. I'm glad she has now been removed, too, from the steps of the Art Museum.

But I digress. My main reaction to seeing the CBS News after so long a respite was that it had no news -- at least during the 15 minutes the birds and I watched. We're involved in an insane war without a way out, the Arctic ice shelves are melting, the three branches of the government are bristling with lunatics, one in four Americans believes Jesus is about to lift them rapturously into the skies, Rudy Giuliani is a serious candidate for president -- and CBS News is using half of its news time to show what was nothing more than a travelogue about some burg like Philadelphia!

I'm from Philadelphia, and I remember what a hilarious wreck of a town it was in the late 1970s, when there were actually four daily newspapers (nobody remembers the loony Philadelphia Journal, alas, and people are even now forgetting about the Bulletin, once the largest evening paper in the country, which went belly-up in 1982).

I left town six years before the second and more famous "Move" fiasco, the one where the mayor ordered a neighborhood bombed (and ended up burning it down) to flush out a maniac radical group. But I remember the first bloody confrontation, in 1978, when police stormed the Move headquarters like an avenging army after a tense month-long neighborhood lock-down ordered by the thuggish mayor and former police commissioner, Frank Rizzo, who died in 1991.

(Very few people recall that Richard Nixon considered (and was barely dissuaded from) choosing the tough-guy Rizzo as the new vice president after Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned in 1973, having copped a plea to money-laundering and tax evasion. Rizzo, had Nixon chosen him, would then have become president the next year, when Nixon himself resigned in disgrace. Man, did we dodge a bullet on that one!).

In 1980, Philadelphia became even more interesting when the old mob boss, a coot named Angelo Bruno, got blown away by an upwardly mobile rival -- and suddenly the Philly mob was the most savage mob in the country, with the possible exception of the even more scary Irish Westies in New York.

(A quick Philly mob story: Many years later, I got to know a former Philadelphia mob capo named Tommy Del Giorno, who was in comfortable hiding after leaving the federal Witness Protection Program, to which he had repaired after turning informant for the feds. Tommy was a short, wiry guy who, like a lot of mob guys, was actually very funny, though he did admit to killing five other mobsters in the course of business.

Tommy, who had been allowed to take his money with him when he entered the program, worked various legitimate jobs while in the program, including one in a restaurant. He told me this about the difference between civilian life and the mafia, in an interview that I did with him in 2000 for the New York Times: "All the time I was in the mob, I never wanted to kill anybody. Out here in the legitimate world, there's 10 people that I've met that I would kill. These legitimate people are worse than mob guys.")

OK, so that's sort of the Philadelphia I remember.

On the CBS News last week, they wasted my time (and my birds' time) slobbering over every standard tourist cliche about Philadelphia: Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell; the Art Museum steps (not its collection, mind you), and those two goddamned cheese-steak joints that the travel harpies unfortunate enough to get assigned to write about Philadelphia always gush over. The two joints are in grubby South Philadelphia -- Pat's King of Steaks and Geno's, across the street from one another, rivals for the supposed title of greatest cheese-steak in the world.

Now, anybody remotely familiar with the subject knows that Pat's and Geno's are O.K. at best, their main assets being that they are open 24 hours a day, and if you have a hankering for a big greasy cheese-steak after the Phillies game, or after a long night out, they're there for you.

In fact, I do remember one strange time after a long night with a gang of press and movie people at Ed (Mrs. Paul's Fish Sticks) Piszek's wonderful but short-lived Philadelphia Press Club. I think it was in 1977.

My evening somehow ended up after 3 a.m. at Pat's King of Steaks, in the company of a very famous, and very famished, Hollywood actress who told me she would have me killed if I ever put it in the paper that we had lurched down to Pat's, just the two of us, to wolf down cheese-steaks at that hour of the night. She had on sunglasses, and an edge of the cheese-steak smudged them with grease as she devoured it, as I recall. She's not as famous now, but a promise is a promise -- and a threat is a threat, as my mob friend would agree.

Anyway, who cares about the CBS Evening News, another dinosaur trudging off to the tar pits? But I must say the segment on cheese steaks got my attention, at least enough to want to set the record straight.

One reason for this odd attention to cheese-steaks is that, having put on weight with all the traveling I do, I am on a diet. And when you are on a diet and you grew up in Philadelphia, there is nothing quite as riveting as the image of a belly-buster of a Philadelphia cheese-steak.

The cheese-steak sandwich is unique to Philadelphia and its suburbs in both Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Yeah, I know they sell them elsewhere, but they're not the same. There is something especially unique about the roll. Every Philadelphia native I know who's moved elsewhere (and that would include all of them) wonders why you can't get a Philadelphia-quality torpedo roll anywhere else in the country. Trust me: You can't.

But unless you're towing around a beautiful, sloshed and hungry starlet who absolutely demands to go to Pat's, there are tons of great cheese-steak joints in the Philadelphia. Here's a link. On that list, many of the cognoscenti would settle on Frank's, at 4th and South. Ignore any links on the list to cheese-steaks that are sold anywhere more than 60 miles from Philadelphia.

For another Philadelphia specialty, the sub-like hoagie (a masterpiece of sandwich construction), the White House Sub Shop in Atlantic City is mobbed (I mean, crowded) and justifiably renowned. They also make great cheese-steaks.

Now I gotta go feed the parrots. Nothing like chopping up some nice broccoli, some fruit, some string beans and a hardboiled egg and tossing in some pistachios and walnuts (that's the birds' dinner) to get your mind off cheese-steaks and onto that nice broiled piece of fish (that's mine).

Luckily, Philadelphia is a 2-hour drive from my house.


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Brazil: The End Game

Right: Amazon site where 737 went down, via Wikipedia

Below: Legacy 600 at jungle air strip after the crash.

Sometimes I have faith that reason will prevail, the truth will out and crucial lessons will be learned about the dangers of a rush to judgment, and particularly to assign criminal blame, in aviation disasters. The signs are increasing that Brazil will not be able to continue blaming the two American pilots while maintaining that its air-traffic control system is well run.

That cat, I would say to my adversaries in Brasilia, has been out of the bag for some months now.

Which brings me back to what caused me to blog so obsessively on this issue, once I was home in early October.

Alone, among media colleagues who cautioned that the investigations must lurch to their ultimate conclusions, whenever that might be, I have been pointing out since the day I got out of custody in Brazil that Brazilian air-traffic control was in a crisis.

Pilots told me this, again and again -- in the days before we all found out the truth.

In the jungle, where I was among the seven American survivors held in custody, a Brazilian Air Force colonel told me this, the day after the collision. "What happened?" I said, as we stood looking at the damaged Legacy 600 business jet that had somehow managed to land after a collision that all aviation experience says no one could have survived.

"Shit happens," he told me in English. He paused for a while and said, "This was air traffic control."

You may not recall, but I certainly do, the first week in October, after I casually mentioned on CNN that international pilots were wary of radar and radio blind zones in Brazil, and also were cautious of Brazil's shaky air-traffic control system and of the fact that controllers were not especially adept at speaking English, which is the agreed-upon language of international aviation.

The response in Brazil to my comment about their air-traffic control system was explosive. The personal response to me was staggering. I labeled a paid agent of American imperialism (not true, at least as far as the pay goes, and I would argue not an imperialist either).

I was denounced as an "assassin." My family was threatened. A journalist writing about sensitive topics gets used to anonymous threats -- but some of the ones I received were explicit and frightening, and even mentioned that my home address was readily available. For months, futile gesture that it would have been, I kept a Louisville Slugger baseball bat next to my bed, with another one next to the front door.

Meanwhile, and unrelentingly, the Brazilian authorities insisted that their air-traffic control system -- which had supposedly been brought up to world standards in a billion-plus contract with an American supplier -- was utterly without fault.

It wasn't until a few months ago that the reality of Brazil's shoddy air-traffic control system was acknowledged.

And, as I said, it isn't just Brazil. As bluntly reported Sunday
by MercoPress, a pan-Latin American news service based in Uruguay:

"Pilots and air traffic controllers have warned that shoddy safety systems could be putting passengers at risk in South America`s two largest countries, prompting an international outcry for rapid overhauls of the organizations that manage air transit in Argentina and Brazil."

And here, via our intrepid Sao Paulo bureau chief Richard Pedicini, is an indication from today's O Estado de S. Paulo that the Federal Police are rethinking their position, disclosed last week, that the pilots were to blame and that any investigation into air traffic control's role was strictly up to the military.

The military runs air traffic control, has a clear motivation for protecting turf and budget, and has a terrible record of trying to scapegoat the Americans from day one, before investigations even began. Its top leaders have disgraced themselves with a string of asinine statements, many issued by the Defense Minister, Wonderful Waldir Pires, such as the utterly delusional charge that the American pilots had been performing illegal stunt maneuvers in the Amazon skies, causing the disaster.

Now that reason seems to be at least in gear, the next logical step (remember, I am operating here on faith, and I am not comfortable with faith) would be to concede that the horrible chain of errors and system failures on the ground (which are not in dispute) was the cause of this accident; to absolve the American pilots of blame; and to avoid pinning criminal blame on individual air-traffic controllers who made errors using poor navigational and radio equipment and working in an unsafe environment.

The system was at fault. The Brazilian air-traffic control system caused that crash.

So fix the system; get the bumbling military out of commercial air-traffic control; deal with the victims' relatives liability claims in Brazil, where they belong -- and move on. If it does that, the Brazilian government will be seen as a first-world nation honorably and firmly reinforcing principles that underpin air-traffic safety all over the world. It if chooses the course of scapegoating the pilots and failing to acknowledge and fix its faulty air-traffic control system, Brazil will look like a sad-sack third-world joke, still jerked around by the military a full 25 years after the military dictatorship in Brazil ended.

Translated from O Estado:

"May 23, 2007

Controllers were alerted over Gol accident, Federal Police Say

Inquiry into accident informs that Cindacta-1 screen showed three
warnings and sergeants did not take any measures and controllers
didn't follow rules.

Bruno Tavares

SÃO PAULO - The inquiry by the Federal Police of Mato Grosso into the
Gol Flight 1907 accident leaves no doubts: the controllers of the
Brazilian air traffic control center (Cindacta-1) received three
warnings that the Legacy jet was not flying at the planned altitude
and did not take measures to avoid the collision with the Gol Boeing.

Besides the accusation of the American pilots Joe Lepore and Jan Paul
Paladino, the investigation also points to "involuntary conduct" of
four controller sergeants directly involved in the jet's monitoring.
The collision between the Gol Boeing and the Legacy jet, on September
29, 2006, caused the death of 154 people.

In the 41-page report, to which O Estado had access, police inspector
Renato Sayão Dias indicated that the controllers "failied to apply the
rules of the air". The first to err, according to the Federal Police,
was sergeant João Batista da Silva. A worker in the São José dos
Campos tower, it was he who transmitted the flight authorization to
the Legacy pilots, without mentioning the different levels along the

Sergeants Leandro José Santos de Barros, Jomarcelo Fernandes dos
Santos and Lucivando Tibúrcio de Alencar, all of Cindacta-1, are also
cited. In the view of the Federal Police, this controllers infringed
items of ICA 100-12 - aeronautic rules - and had improper conduct in
the face of the problem. To show the airmen's responsibility, the
Federal Police annexed to the final report the radar images made
moments before the collision - the same images divulged by the Air
Force on Saturday.

"I do not know where the police got this from, but I can guarantee the
controllers did not have access to those data", reaffirmed the
vice-president of the Brazilian Federation of Associations of Air
Traffic Controllers, Moisés Almeida. "There is a blind spot in that
area, in radio as well as radar." The Air Force command, however,
denies the existence of uncovered spots in air space. It also informed
that no equipment presented defects.

As they are military personnel, the controllers should be investigated
by the Military Prosecutors' Office. Military prosecutor Giovanni
Rattacaso, however, has already said that the Federal Police
investigation should serve as as basis for a Military Police Inquiry

Lawyer Fábio Tomás de Souza, defender of the controller sergeants,
alleges that technical failures induced the controllers to err. "This
will be the principal thesis of the defense", Sousa advanced. The
lawyer also criticized the release of the radar images. "The Air Force
is looking for an escape hatch. They put a Colonel-Aviator to speak,
but he understands nothing of the system."

What the Federal Police inquiry says;
What each controller supposedly did say on the day of the accident

Sgt. João Batista da Silva: transmitted the flight authorization to
the Legacy pilots, without mentioning the different flight levels
along the trajectory.

Sgt. Leandro José Santos de Barros: perceived that the jet's
information was incomplete on the radar and considered this normal.
Even without having certainty of the altitude, he acted as if the jet
was at 36,000 feet, when, in fact, it was flying at 37,000.

Sgt. Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos: communicated with the jet, having
verified that the aircraft was flying at 37,000 feet, but made no
observation to that effect. For seven minutes, he should have observed
that the Legacy was flying at 37,000 feet - and not at 36,000 -,
because the information was visible on the screen. He was not alarmed
at the loss of the secondary radar signal - which supplied the
altitude with precision. He did not take the measures foreseen - which
oblige the controller to inform when the transponder becomes
inoperative, communicating to the next control center (Manaus) for
measures to be taken and demanding that the pilot verify the operation
of the transponder. He told the controller who relieved him that the
jet was flying according to the flight plan.

Sgt. Lucivaldo Tibúrcio de Alencar: he received the jet at the level
of 36,000 feet and, even without information from the secondary radar [and], did not question the exact altitude. He made 8 attempts at contact
with the jet, but did not take the measures foreseen in case of
communications failure."

My Note: Rest assured, some of the stooges for the Defense Department among the Brazilian media (and they are legion) will rush to deflect the impact this story will have on public opinion in Brazil. The representatives of the families of the 154 passengers on the Gol flight who tragically died are especially determined to keep the focus on the American pilots, in order to have the civil suits tried in the United States. They're well aware of the relative futility of suing the Brazilian military.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Yeah ... That's the Ticket!

Air travel, Saigon, 1975 (l)

Jon Lovitz (r)

Who are you going to believe, the airlines or your lyin' eyes?

For a couple of weeks now, I've seen stories from major airlines saying that they're cutting back this summer on domestic capacity -- the number of available seats -- because demand is slowing.

"Yeah ... that's the ticket!" as Jon Lovitz's Tommy Flanagan (pronounced Fla-NAY-gan), the character chronically unable to tell the truth, used to say.

United Airlines is the latest to offer up this "demand is slowing" rationale to justify cutting back on domestic seating capacity this summer. The airline said yesterday it would cut domestic capacity by about 3 percent "as it adjusts to flagging growth in domestic traffic," according to the ever-credulous Associated Press, which added, "by limiting the number of available seats, the industry can boost its unit revenue and gain more pricing power." In actual English, that means: By deliberately making it harder to find a seat, the industry can raise fares.

This summer, the Air Transport Association said, U.S. airlines will carry 209 million passengers, up from 203 million last summer. The media that reported this typically failed to note that this does not translate as "domestic passengers," but rather as all passengers carried on U.S. airlines. In fact, the major airlines -- those with extensive international routes -- have been diverting bigger planes -- and seating capacity -- from domestic service to international routes where -- they believe -- there is more money to be made per seat.

The Air Transport Association's monthly yield report bears that out. In April, major domestic airlines' yield (the money they made per seat sold) was down 2.9 percent from April 2006 on domestic flights, but up 7.2 percent on transatlantic flights and up 9 percent on Pacific flights.

So the major airlines are betting that trend continues, as competitive pressure from low-cost and regional carriers also works to keep domestic fares down. Maybe it does, and maybe an international fare war breaks out and the airline strategy, such as it is, collapses. At any rate, the major airlines are willfully leaving domestic passengers in the lurch.

As bigger planes go to Europe and Asia, that means many more small planes -- and increasing demands on air-traffic control and airport scheduling -- on many domestic routes. And all airplanes will be packed. In April, airlines in general already were flying with load factors -- the percentage of seats occupied by paying customers -- approaching and in some cases exceeding 85 percent. That means, on most flights, every seat is full.

Delays? Delays are reaching record levels already, and what's worse, fiascos where planes full of people sit stranded on ramps for six, eight and even 10 hours are becoming fairly routine.

In short, demand is strong, airports are at capacity, there is no slack in the system to accommodate more than the most minor bad weather, and the airlines have fired so much of their work forces that there's often nobody around to manage any of the great and lesser crises that are sure to be the hallmark of air travel this summer.

Major airlines had 262,400 workers in February 2007, according to the Department of Transportation. That's a 23.3 percent drop from February 2003. While low-cost and regional airlines have added workers, the overall domestic industry workforce was down 6.8 percent in Frbruary, compared with 2003.

And hub airports, where the network airlines with the most drastic cuts in employees dominate travel, are worried.

The Travel Industry Association of America said this week that domestic travel, including air travel, will be up 1.4 percent for leisure trips and 3 percent for business trips this summer.

In a system stretched so tight, it takes only small and quite predictable glitches -- thunderstorms in Dallas! -- to hobble air transportation. Mike Boyd, of the Boyd Group aviation consultant company, whose Monday morning essays are must reading likes to jokingly evoke the image of the Fall of Saigon (above), with desperate hordes lunging for any flight out, when he talks about airport chaos.

This summer it may actually start looking like that.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Brazil: What's Left to Dispute?

Left: The damaged Legacy after landing at the remote Cachimbo air base in the Amazon.

Right: Pilots Joe Lepore (l) and Jan Paladino (r).

If you've been following the intricacies of the aftermath of the Brazil crash on this blog since early October, you already know that the disaster was caused by an astonishing breakdown in Brazilian air traffic control, with failures of technical systems and major human errors on the ground. Brazilian air traffic control is run by the Brazilian military, which has a clear interest in protecting turf (and budget) and deflecting blame from itself.

Not just the military, but other Brazilian police and political authorities, abetted by some of the media in Brazil, have been steadfast in their attempts to scapegoat the two American pilots of the Legacy 600 business jet that was in a collision with a commercial Gol 737 at 37,000 feet over the Amazon on Sept. 29. The 737 crashed, killing all 154 on board; the damaged business jet managed an emergency landing, and the two pilots and five passengers were not physically injured.

Newsday, the hometown paper of the two American pilots and of ExcelAire, the Long Island charter company that had just purchased the airplane in Brazil hours before the crash, prints an update today that summarizes the story accurately for a change, except for a bizarre quote from a lawyer for the relatives of the victims who asserts the tapes show the pilots were not properly trained in flying the Legacy. No investigator has ever made that assertion.

As far as I can fathom, the esteemed attorney is referring to a small amount of confusion the pilots expressed about how to operate "Airshow," which is nothing more than an in-flight video entertainment system that shows movies and projects a real-time map of current location and airspeed for the enjoyment of passengers in the cabin. Airshow has nothing at all to do with the operation of the aircraft and it's flat-out insane to suggest that a few comments about the Airshow controls meant the pilots were not properly trained.

Incidentally, if you want to see the quality of discourse coming from Brazilian interests in this story -- and understand the reason I reluctantly turned off the comments feature of this blog back in October -- check out the "Comments" section under the Newsday story.

As I reported here some time ago, Brazilian authorities and their stooges in the Brazilian media have consistently taken out of context and distorted comments made by the pilots both before and after the collision, as captured by the cockpit voice recorder.

Here is a link to the full transcript from the cockpit voice recorder. Judge for yourself, but keep in mind that the recordings are not always clear and the words "on" and "off" can easily be misunderstood or deliberately misinterpreted.

What remains in dispute, now that we know the American pilots did nothing wrong? Well, the Legacy's transponder -- which triggers the anti-collision alert that would have been the very last possible fail-safe chance to avoid the collision -- was not signaling for 55 minutes before the collision (as was well known by air traffic control on the ground, which was duty-bound to notify the Legacy of the transponder problem and did not).

More than a dozen pilots I've spoken to since the crash have told me the transponder and its TCAS anti-collision warning system are, variously, a non-issue, a "red herring," or at best the last possible slim chance to possibly prevent a collision when air traffic control has already set two planes traveling toward each other at the exact same altitude, at a closing speed of about 1,100 miles an hour, and utterly unaware of each other's existence due to radio and other failures on the ground.

Incidentally, largely overlooked so far in this situation is the role of modern technology, which put both oncoming planes exactly in the middle of the airway. Before GPS and all of that, pilots have told me, they could depend on some "slop" -- that is, a tendency for a plane to be 100 feet or more off center or off altitude -- to lessen the certainty of a head-on collision between two planes coming toward each other at the same altitude in the same airway. Now, they're automatically dead-on.

I'll catch up tomorrow on the latest from our Sao Paulo bureau. There will be a lot more huffing and puffing in the Brazilian media, the Air Force and from representatives of victims families who are determined to litigate these claims in the U.S. and maintain the fiction that the American pilots were to blame. But basically, this story has almost been told. But stand by, because there are a lot of political and financial interests at stake.


The Morning News: Calling Michael Moore

Mired as they are in interminable stories about processes and in telling you things you already know, newspapers in general have lost their appreciation for what the great Washington Post editor Ben Bradley used to call the "Holy shit!" story.

But Lookit this one from the Los Angeles Times today. Too late to make the cut for Michael Moore's new documentary about health care in the U.S.


The Morning News: Pony Up II

I am dismayed to read once more today that the new president of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, made his macho bones by posing as the proverbial "man on a white horse" during the election.

I have nothing against Mr. Sarkozy. I do object to clueless reporters repeating the "man on the white horse" theme. Sarkozy is shown "looking every bit a Texan," one big newspaper mysteriously reported.

Please: Mr. Sarkozy (above) is riding a pony, not a horse.

Pony, pony, pony!

Napoleon (middle) -- who I do have plenty against, being the murderous warmonger that he was -- is on a white horse, obviously a stallion.

Top: George Bush and some Texans. Mr. Bush, as we know, cannot ride a horse.

Just for the record.


Thursday, May 17, 2007

Road Rage Survey ... Plus: Some Advice On Getting Married by an Elvis Impersonator in Las Vegas

Not sure I agree with the results, but it's a Survey, so attention must be paid. That's a rule in media school.

Besides, you're likely to see this tonight or tomorrow on your local television news or in your local paper, because local papers and television stations love to publicize surveys that mention the home town (or the proverbial Tri-State Area). That way, they don't have to cover actual news, which is an expensive nuisance that clutters up the commercials.

Anyway, according to the second annual "In the Driver's Seat Road Rage Survey" commissioned by AutoVantage, an automobile club, Miami is the least courteous U.S. city to drive in, New York is second and Boston is third.

In other totally unrelated news, I am in receipt of a communication by, the Web-based concierge service for Las Vegas bookings, with the useful information that a marriage performed by an Elvis impersonator in a Vegas wedding chapel is, perforce, a legal marriage and should not be undertaken lightly. Who woulda thought? More from Vegas in a minute.

Back to road rage and general urban meanness.

With regard to the survey linked to above, there is an unrelated company that markets a convenient flip book of placards with easily read messages that can be flashed to discourteous or otherwise annoying drivers.

Each message card has a reverse image printed on the back so it can be seen in your antagonist's rear-view mirror. Some of the messages are merely harsh. Others have very provocative insults, in extremely provocative language. Wisely, the company says that "actual use" of the flip-cards in public is discouraged. A disclaimer on the flip-book says, "The road rage cards may be deemed harmful or offensive to others and may give rise to physical or verbal retaliation, which may result in injury or even death."

Uh, noted.

Anyway, to return to the survey on discourteous cities: My own experience would put Boston firmly in first place, whether driving or walking. (New Yorkers on a stroll in Boston are especially vulnerable, because New York pedestrians assume that a car will actually stop for you when you have the green light and the "Walk" sign. That assumption can be dangerous in Boston, where you will be run down by someone hurling a curse in that irritating accent.)

I myself wouldn't even put New York in the top 5 of least-courteous cities. Visitors to New York, especially foreigners always tell me they're surprised by how basically friendly a city it actually is, once one gets over the fact that it's a very big city and people are in a rush. An exception must be made for some cab drivers who seem to have learned their manners in Borat's home town.

Los Angeles, now there's a rude city.

Las Vegas, on the other hand, is not a rude city. Must be something about the desert and the Southwest, but Las Vegas to me seems like a very pleasant place.

I sometimes encounter people, often foreigners, who say they are reluctant to visit Las Vegas because they think it's tacky. Hey, I tell them. Atlantic City is tacky. Hollywood is tacky. Las Vegas is by contrast the apotheosis of over-the-top. I have told skeptical foreign friends planning a visit to the American Southwest: Yes, the Grand Canyon is magnificent. But Las Vegas is also not to be missed, even if (or perhaps especially if) you don't gamble.

Anyway, I received an amusing e-mail today from, the snappy online concierge business that does all sorts of booking for Las Vegas, including the sort of head-of-the-line nightclub reservations that you used to have to Know a Guy to obtain. Here are some useful tips offers:

--"Don’t listen to your frat brothers, pals or even crazy Uncle Lou. Prostitution is not legal anywhere in Clark County, which is located at the southern tip of Nevada and contains Las Vegas. Looking for that happy ending? Pahrump, Nevada, is only 45 minutes away. ...

-- If you’re looking to drink in Vegas then you’d better be 21 or over, with ID to prove it. ... Adults are forbidden to even sit at the bar section of a restaurant while accompanied by minor.

---Did your neighbor shoot your dog on your property? Take the law into your own hands and hang the guy. It’s considered legal in Nevada...

--...Like the laws of liquor, you must be 21 or over to gamble. Not there yet? Nevada state law also prohibits minors from loitering in casinos and gaming areas.


-- ... A legal marriage in Vegas, no matter who performed it (Elvis included), is a legal marriage anywhere.

--Most of [the] cab drivers are great. But when coming from the airport make sure your cabbie takes Swenson and doesn’t go through the airport tunnel. Not only does this act of “long-hauling” add a few bucks to the fare, but it’s illegal in Nevada.

-- While it’s legal in Vegas to walk around the strip with an open container of alcohol, drinking and driving is 100% prohibited.


-- ... touch an exotic dancer and the only action you’ll get is from Mo the bouncer. Avoid a kick in the groin and a fat lip with’s handy Strip Club Etiquette guide."


My note: Only in Las Vegas would a concierge service publish a guide to strip-club etiquette.

Here's how -- I've actually visited their offices -- describes itself:

" is the largest city destination travel website in the world with extensive, constantly updated information and a full range of travel products including hotel rooms, air-hotel packages, show tickets, tours and golf. A state-of-the-art contact center provides customer support, expert information and sales 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year to complement the information on and, through its Casino Travel & Tours unit, operates retail and concierge desks at more than 50 locations including the Palms, Paris, MGM Grand, Bally’s, Mandalay Bay, Excalibur, New York-New York, Luxor and more. The company also offers a variety of excursions including city tours, the Hoover Dam and the Grand Canyon. is a member of the Greenspun Family of Companies, a privately owned company operating in Southern Nevada for more than 60 years."


The Morning News: Radio Wack-Job Threatens to Call the Cops, Just Like That Crazy Neighborhood Coot Who Chases Kids Away From His Front Yard

"Sweet Jesus, I Hate Bill O'Reilly" is by Joseph Minton Amann and Tom Breuer, who also have a Web site,

Demonstrating an increasingly shaky familiarity with reality, the radio wack-job Bill O'Reilly threatened to send police to the home of a caller whose evident transgression was mentioning the name of O'Reilly critic Keith Olbermann.

"We have your phone number and we're going to turn it over to Fox Security and you're going to get a little visit," the delusional O'Reilly said after cutting off the caller. Fox Security, he warned listeners who might be considering phoning O'Reilly and saying something the great man doesn't want to hear, "will contact your local authorities."

Woooooo. Fox Security!

Anyway, the crazed segment mysteriously has disappeared from O'Reilly's Web site (Wooooooo ... Fox Security must have been on the job) -- but it can be seen in a segment on YouTube from Keith Olbermann's program. (The previous link went dark on a third-party site I liked to, but the above is the original one on YouTube that I should have linked to).

You gotta see it to believe it.

Let's see now. Don Imus is fired for a stupid albeit racist comment. But this incurable nitwit O'Reilly remains on the air after warning listeners that they will "get a little visit" at home by the cops if they say something "untoward." (That's a direct quote from O'Reilly). ... Oops, I guess I can expect a "little visit." In fact, one of O'Reilly's producers actually lives on my street. True fact! So there's nowhere to hide!

By the way, I had an Irish great-uncle who physically resembles O'Reilly in family photos, and who was run over by a steam locomotive at a crossing in the Tioga neighborhood of Philadelphia in the early 1950s. Let's just note that, as the Irish say, Drink had been taken.)

But I digress. O'Reilly's strange outburst, incidentally, comes just a month after a TV critic for the Denver Post who wrote a review critical of O'Reilly claimed she was "stalked" by an O'Reilly producer after she declined an invitation to appear on the O'Reilly program to be smacked around by the guy with his finger always poised on the cutoff button.


Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Brazil: Luckily, the Pope Is a Good Sport

Sweet sufferin' --- ... well, you know. Do you remember back when this Brazil fiasco was new, and the outcry that ensued when I mentioned on CNN that Brazil's air space was well known for being riddled with blind zones and black radio holes that sometimes cause air traffic control to lose contact with aircraft? It was a full-fledged s--- storm down there. How dare anyone suggest that! (In fact, it is well known, and the authorities are now making noises about fixing it, once they figure out how to blame the American pilots).

Now, it seems, they even lost contact with the Pope's plane which (like the Legacy, as the pilots tried to find a landing spot after the collision), needed a third-party aircraft to relay messages to ATC. The Pope just completed a state visit to Brazil.

Read this from today's press in Brazil. Note how language difficulties were cited, as if the Pope's plane was at fault. Note how they try to pin the rap on the Pope, and not on Brazilian air traffic control. An investigation, needless to say, is underway.

Note: Cindacta is air traffic control.

Pope’s flight lost contact with Cindacta, says representative

From Brasília branch

The message of goodbye and thanks sent by Pope Bento 16 to president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, mid-flight to Rome, last Sunday, was only delivered to Palácio do Planalto yesterday afternoon, after being made public and causing confusion in the session of the Air Blackout CPI. (My note: that's one of two congressional committees investigating the Sept. 29 crash and the ensuing near-collapse of Brazil's air traffic system as controllers staged protests for months about working conditions and in an attempt to head off blame for the crash).

In the middle of the deposition of Federal Police marshal Renato Sayão, representative Efraim Filho (DEM-PB, former PFL), said that there was a communication failure of over 20 minutes between the flight that took the pope and the control center of Recife (Cindacta-3).

And showed a CD with a recording that supposedly would show that the pope’s message only arrived to the center with the help of a TAM flight.

According to the representative, the airplane that left Brazil towards Italy tried, unsuccessfully, to contact the center for 28 minutes. The calls allegedly happened between 11:17 pm and 11:47 pm of Sunday. The airplane was 350 km off the Brazilian coast.

The recording is almost inaudible and was made by an amateur radio user. After the confusion, the Air Force said that the TAM airplane didn’t “help”, but rather participated in the conversation. The message was then quickly relayed to the president at around 6 pm.

"As I fly above Brazilian lands to return to Rome, I wish to extend my deepest thanks for the dedicated attention I received”, says an excerpt from the pope’s message. In the recording, it is possible to hear the TAM pilot telling the controller that the Alitalia flight wanted to send Lula a message “of 23 minutes” from the pope.

The Brazilian Air Force denied the radio communication failure and said that the communications lasted a total of eight minutes. The pope’s message lasted two minutes. According to the Air Force, the Italian airplane pilot “led others to believe that the message would last 23 minutes”.

“The misunderstanding was due to the fact that the Italian pilot said that the message would last ‘two, three minutes’”, says the Air Force note.

“From the initial request until the full recording of the thank you – with a duration of two minutes – approximately eight minutes went by, without any communication failure”, says the note. TAM and Alitalia did not confirm the situation.

The CPI president, representative Marcelo Castro (PMDB-PI) said, at the end of the committee’s session, that the case would be investigated. (Sílvio Navarro, Leila Suwwan and


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 ...