Wednesday, December 10, 2008

More on Brazil Crash Charges: Judge Discounts Air Force Report in Criminal Case

More on the decision this week by a Brazilian federal judge to drop one of the key charges against the two American pilots in the 2006 mid-air collision that killed 154.

In his decision dropping one of several charges against the pilots, the judge also took aim at the Brazilian Air Force report on the crash that is expected to be released later today. The Brazilian Air Force is in charge of air-traffic control in that country.

The judge's ruling on Monday said that the Air Force report, which is almost 300 pages long "does not have any value in the trial" of the pilots (who are now in the U.S.) or the four low-ranking air traffic controllers who were also criminally charged in the crash.

The Air Force report "is not an official report produced under the scrutiny of the [courts]. Therefore, the judge cannot examine it and refer to it for one or another conclusion," federal judge Murilo Mendes ruled.

This is not the first time that the courts and the Air Force and federal police have been at odds in this horrible case. For over two months after the crash on Sept. 29, 2006, the American pilots were held in Brazil without charge.

On Dec. 9, 2006, hours after a judge ordered the pilots' passports returned, freeing them to leave the country, the police and military hastily cobbled together criminal charges in a last-ditch but unsuccessful attempt to keep the American pilots detained in Brazil. The pilots barely made it out.

As noted yesterday, the judge in Sinop on Monday dropped charges of negligence against the pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, both employees of the Long Island air-charter company ExcelAire at the time of the crash. ExcelAire had just taken delivery of the new Legacy 600 business jet in Brazil and the pilots were ferrying it to New York with five passengers aboard [note, I was one of them] when the collision occurred.

In its ruling this week, the federal judge in Sinop, Mato Grosso, said that there was no evidence that the American pilots were negligent in the air-traffic control communications failures that preceded the crash.

He left standing against the pilots charges that they had failed to adhere to the original flight plan (the Legacy had been ordered to fly at 37,000 feet by air traffic control, rather than the 36,000 feet stated in the flight plan filed before take-off), and that the pilots were responsible, along with air traffic control, for not noticing that the Legacy's transponder was malfunctioning or otherwise off-line for 50 minutes before the crash.

The charges against the pilots, basically unintentional manslaughter and unintentionally exposing Brazilian skies to peril, are not extraditable under U.S.-Brazilian treaties. But the charges carry a possible prison term of there years in Brazil.


[Thanks to Richard Pedicini in Sao Paulo for translations and updates.]

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