(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.