Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Flight 447: Some Answers and a Comment

(UPDATE JUNE 8)--Just so sane people can see the thought process of certain insane elements in Brazil, I've been approving a few of the harsh comments and threats that keep pouring in from that remarkable country -- more than 400 in all so far, and most of them full of aggrieved invective. You will notice how freely I am referred to as a "murderer" by some of these nitwits. Note the lies about what I clearly said here and on other occasions. Notice how these comments blithely ignore the findings of the National Transportation Safety Board on the primary causes and contributing factors that led to the tragic midair collision that killed 154 on Sept. 29, 2006 -- when Brazilian air traffic control mistakenly placed two aircraft on a collision path at 37,000 feet over the Amazon. In a nation once receptive to Nazi war criminals, an innocent victim of a plane crash is a "murderer" because he has annoyed some people by insisting that questions need to be posed? What kind of psychology drives this? Whatever it is, I will no longer enable it.

So goodbye and good riddance to my faithful Brazilian haters. You have disgraced yourselves, again (as Yeats once said in a different setting). You, your lies, threats, insults and hate are no longer welcome on this blog.


There are about 300 comments piled up over yesterday's post, from angry people in Brazil, where we have had some history. In that post I reiterated a suggestion that answers were needed on when Air France Flight 447 disappeared, and whether it was in Brazilian airspace when it dropped out of sight.

The answer is that it was not in Brazilian airspace, as was shown by the Brazilian Air Force map that I linked to yesterday, and as proved by the wreckage found at sea.

One small question remains, since the flight had only recently left Brazilian airspace when it crashed: When did Brazilian air traffic control last have contact with the plane; when should it have last had contact, and should it have warned that there were severe thunderstorms in the immediate path? It would be useful to have an answer, especially to the last part to that -- including if the answer is: "Absolutely not."

As to the comments, they are mainly the usual obscene insults, denunciations and threats that I became accustomed to in late 2006 and afterward.

That was when I quite inadvertently became involved in a furor in Brazil after a midair collision over the Amazon, in which a Gol 737 airliner tragically went down in the jungle with 154 aboard, while the badly damaged Legacy 600 business jet I was a passenger on (with four other passengers and two pilots) managed to make an emergency landing in the Amazon with no physical injuries to those aboard.

To make a long story short: Brazilian authorities immediately, and unwisely, jumped to criminalize the accident, blaming the two American pilots before any serious investigation was even underway.

In media interviews immediately after the crash, I pointed out that international pilots were telling me that Brazilian air traffic control had serious systemic and operational flaws, and saying that radar and radio communications were not reliable over the central Amazon. Both planes involved in the midair were flying at 37,000 feet in opposite directions, as ordered by air traffic control.

It seemed to me to be a simple, if horrible, thing. Egregious problems in Brazilian air traffic control caused the midair collision. A contributing factor was the still-unexplained malfunction of the Legacy's transponder, a piece of avionics equipment that should have triggered an anti-collision warning system that would have been the last possible chance to avoid a collision that was already firmly set in place.

None of this is now in dispute by any serious person. Meanwhile, the two American pilots and four Brazilian air traffic controllers are now on trial in Brazil (the Americans in absentia.)

Some die-hards in Brazil, driven by obvious anti-Americanism, still insist that somehow the American pilots deliberately turned off the transponder, which of course makes no sense at all. To this contingent, any suggestion that this disaster was caused by Brazil's military-run air-traffic control system and its outdated operations is a cause for rage.

We are beyond arguing facts. And you cannot argue emotion.

The problems in Brazil's air traffic control system became manifest after the 2006 tragedy, when overworked, underpaid controllers staged work protests that created chaos in that country's air travel system.

Nine months after 154 died in the Amazon crash, another 200 died in a horrible crash at the airport in Sao Paulo.

Given the record, given clear history, it was reasonable this week to ask questions about the role of Brazilian air traffic control in monitoring Flight 447, which left from Rio about four hours before it went down and was traveling northeast in Brazilian airspace most of that time.

It is now clear that Air France 447 was beyond the reach of Brazilian air traffic control.

Many of the comments I'm getting express anger that I would pose questions.

All I can say to that is that, as past events have shown us, you need to ask the questions first, and come to your conclusions only after those questions have been satisfactorily answered.

That is what I did yesterday -- and it is precisely what did NOT occur in 2006, when authorities jumped to conclusions before getting answers to key questions. And even today, partly because of the rush to judgment before facts were in, some of the vital questions remain unanswered.

Back in 2006 and afterward, my own unhappy role, never sought, was to be a lightening rod for rage in Brazil, since I was the only one of the seven survivors of the mid-air collision who was free to discuss it. (The other six survivors were employees of either Excelaire, the charter company that had just taken delivery of the new Legacy jet in Brazil and was flying it home, or Embraer, the Legacy's manufacturer, and unable for legal reasons to comment freely.)

In a disaster, questions need to be asked.

Unlike the situation in 2006, answers have been forthcoming this week, including from the Brazilian Air Force, which runs air traffic control. The Brazilian Air Force has issued timely, detailed reports.

I regret that my post of yesterday has now re-ignited fury. As before, elements of the Brazilian media are misquoting me, saying that I sought to blame Brazilian air traffic control. Not so, I merely sought answers to unanswered questions.

As to the angry comments, there is nothing I can ever do to un-ring the bell that rang two-and-a-half years ago at 37,000 feet over the Amazon. Everything I subsequently wrote about that incident has been shown to be accurate.

I have been accused, repeatedly and till this day, of having no sympathy for the 154 who died in the Amazon in 2006, while I lived. On the contrary, I have consistently expressed my profound grief about those lives that were cut so horribly short. There is, as I said over and over, no reason on earth why they should have died and I and six others should have walked away. For me, it was just a matter of pure unearned luck, of a few feet of wingspan.

I'm not approving most of the the angry comments that are arriving from Brazil. These things merely feed on themselves. In no time at all, we are back to 2006.

A few are posted (for some reason they post to yesterday's blog.)

And then here is another, this from a Brazilian air traffic controller. Forgotten in the furor over the 2006 tragedy was how Brazilian air traffic controllers, most of whom struggling to do their best under very tough working conditions, were also eventually scapegoated, once the American pilots were charged.

Bemildo Ferreira is an air-traffic controller. He titled his message "Questions to a survivor," and wrote:

"Hi, Mr. Sharkey. How you doing? I have few questions. Don't you think you are to much eager to catch the Brazilian guys doing their ATC jobs on a flaw again? I mean, have you ever thought that the Brazilian guys at the Brazilian ATC facilities just do their work at the very limits Brazilian Authorities drawn personally to them? So, if the most of them are military people, don't you think that they are just on their duties within their trained skills? Why wait for more of them?"

I hear you, Bemildo. Not eager, though if I seemed so I apologize. I merely asked questions and meant no insult by implication to the hard-working air traffic controllers in Brazil.

We are all of us captives of fate, subject to luck and caprice, beating against the mortal current.

Be safe.



Fernando said...

You and your friend are highly responsible for the accident who suffered and death of the crew of the airplane's Gol. I believe in evidence and not what you say because the facts show that his credibility is ZERO!

Now at this time of suffering you will raise suspicions about who did not have any guilt? What you know about my aviation my dear journalist?


Be happy.

maricotinha_mranda said...


Leco said...

Now you understand very well that Brazil, as Latin America in general, is put under severe prejudice by the anglo-saxon world, lately victorious economically since, let us say, the 'german reformation' (Martin Luther, not 'the King'). Japan and China were left to show, that all 'western' accomplishments at last, were not due to race, that comes implicit with this kind of prejudice that 'Latins' have to suffer in north America. Taiwan, Korea, Malaysia, etc...followed, and in general the gap between white Saxon wunderlaender and the hispanic catholic underworld, as much as with 'the rest of the world', narrowed so much, that a said black half-Kenyan must be respected as President of the United States.
But minds are necessarily slower than 'reality' or 'facts'. Brazils wort enemy is himself. He has to struggle with all odds history - of the defeated (meaning iberic mediterranean catholic world), uses to present, yet ours is not such a deplorable situation as many, induced by the said timeless prejudices, would like to believe.

recacon said...

Man, I know a little about what they wrote for you, on those offensive comments. And no comments about that, it's just a matter of education.

I'll try one more time, to answer your small questions.

Usually, the pilots contact ATC at specified "reporting points", to avoid congesting a frequency and reducing workload. The last time ATC had contact with AF447, as far as we know, was at the reporting point before INTOL. So far, so good. About the thunderstorm warning, there's a rumour that ATC warned AF447 about the thunderstorm on its path. Anyway, even if it didn't warn the pilots, the onboard weather radar would show a large red spot on the map.

About the 1907 accident, it's pretty clear that Lepore and Paladino didn't turn off the transponder or TCAS on purpose. Everyone saying that has no idea of flight safety. Maybe, when using the footrest, they pressed a switch or something that turned off transponder. The fact is, it was turned off, probably by accident. Well, we don't need to get into all of it again... It's over, justice will take care of this. And if not the earth one, the divine one.

About the 3054, it was a totally different issue. It was about airport infrastructure, not ATC.

Yes, our controllers are really hard-working. I know some of them, and one of them is from São Jose dos Campos. I think you've heard of this city before.

All the best,


Gilberto said...

Idiot, To accuse professionals in situations as the lived ones currently is sufficiently propitious certain Sharkey! You would have to be more human and not to use of this pra to justify errors… lived in the past, sufficiently peculiar its accusations similar to obtain media… looks to be more useful and silenced humanity being.

G. Gonzaga

Max said...

You are stupid!

Flavio said...

Mr. Sharkey,

I don't keep up with your blog, but I recall the media attention you generated after being involved in the Gol airlines tragedy.

Back then I held the opinion that you were posting inflammatory comments to garner publicity. I believe that very little has changed.

Your style consists of writing half-truths, conveniently omitting facts which contradict the point you're trying to make. You also enjoy asking accusatory questions and neglecting to post answers (which often are known, but would also contradict your argument).

You're a textbook example of an attention whore. I can only hope that media outlets realise this, and stop encouraging your behavior.

Max said...

you are stupid!

San said...

who are you think you are?
Up your as.

Craudeah said...

The Legacy pilots did not know to use the transponder. It killed 154 people and you left unharmed.
You missed a great opportunity to keep quiet.
You know nothing of investigation of air accidents, it takes time, then shut up and go take care of your ass.

Vinicius said...

Another question from my side is: why don't u take care of the American air space, where you can take a plane and collide it against 02 towers and a governmental building with no reaction from authorities?

airWatch said...

Dear Mr. Sharkey, FAA-AIM states "Preflight Preparation. a. Every pilot is urged to receive a preflight briefing... This briefing should consist of the latest or most current weather..." I thought that it was a crew duty to look for weather conditions that they will face. And "...briefers use all available weather and aeronautical information to summarize data applicable to the proposed flight. They do not read weather reports and forecasts verbatim unless specifically requested by the pilot". And "the pilot-incommand of an aircraft is directly responsible for, and is the final authority as to, the operation of that aircraft". So, couldn't we conclude that avoid bad weather conditions is a crew responsibility?

Carlos said...

Interesting how you propose questions about the competence of the Brazilian authorities. As far we (and the rest of the Word) know, the USA airspace are not a security example. On 9/11 in a single day, 3 aircraft was kidnapped and one of them was thrown on your valuable and ultra safe pentagon.

Fucking idiot...

maíra said...

Renato is right.
This is not written out of any anti-american-whatever-feelings. Clearly the transponder was turned off. Now, was it purposely turned off? That would be unreasonable, I don´t think its possible.About the 3054 flight,it was not a matter of air control, as Renato said. You keep pointing fingers to everything, but pal, you don´t really seem to have all of the information.

Look, the bottom line is, your previous post was too eager to blame the brazilian air control; posing questions that are, at least, unresonable for the time being. And you shouldn´t expect anything different than angry posts from us, Brazilians, as I´m sure the people in your country or others would do the same if someone jumped on bad conclusions.