Saturday, May 30, 2009

Brazil Ups the Charges Against U.S. Pilots in Midair Collision

As I have long predicted they would, the Brazilian prosecutors have added extra charges to those already filed against the two American pilots of a business jet involved in a midair collision over the Amazon that killed 154 on a Brazilian commercial 737 airline on Sept. 29, 2006.

The business jet, an Embraer Legacy 600, was flying at 37,000 feet over the central Amazon, bound for Manaus, when the collision occurred. The National Transportation Safety Board, in opposition to an "investigation" by the Brazilian Air Force that primarily blamed the American pilots, found that the accident was primarily caused by Brazilian air traffic control (which is run by the Brazilian Air Force, which did the "investigation"). The Legacy -- on which I was one of five passengers -- had been assigned to fly at 37,000 feet by air traffic control. Another factor was faulty Brazilian air traffic control communications over the Amazon.

Contributing to the collision was the malfunction of a piece of avionics equipment called the transponder, which unaccountably failed to trigget the collision-avoidance alarm that would have been the last possible chance to avoid an accident already firmly set in place with two airplanes approaching each other at 500 miles an hour each.

Brazilian authorities, ignoring a basic precaution in aircraft accident investigation protocols, immediately criminalized the accident before investigating the causes fully. The pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, spent two months detained in Brazil until a judge, acting against the wishes of the Air Force and the federal prosecutors determined to scapegoat the Americans and hold them in Brazil indefinitely, ordered them released in December 2006.

For over a year, they have been on trial in absentia in Brazil on criminal charges of unintentionally causing the accident. The U.S. treaty with Brazil on criminal prosecutions does not require extradition on those charges. I'm traveling now, and out of touch with my usual sources for the day, but my fear is that this latest move is a ploy to goose up the charges and meet the terms of the treaty, presuring for extradition.

Attention pilots who fly Brazilian skies. Attention pilots unions. This is serious stuff.

More later.


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