Wednesday, October 27, 2010

First Criminal Conviction in Brazil Mid-Air Collision Disaster

A single low-ranking Brazilian air-traffic controller has been convicted by a military court in the Sept. 29, 2006 mid-air collision over the Amazon that killed 154 people on a Brazilian airliner, while the business jet it collided with at 37,000 feet (on which I was a passenger) managed an emergency landing in the jungle.

According to the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo, the controller, Third Sergeant Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos, was sentenced in Brasilia to 14 months imprisonment "for negligence and for having ignored safety rules, which directly caused the collision, killing 154." The charge was "manslaughter-homicide with no intent to kill."

The other four air-traffic controllers charged in the disaster in the military tribunal were acquitted. The military operates Brazil's famously troubled air traffic control system.

The two American pilots of the business jet remain on trial in Brazil, in absentia, on criminal charges.

According to the news account (and many thanks, as usual, to Richard Pedicini in Sao Paulo for the translation}:

"Absolved were João Batista da Silva, Felipe Santos Reis, Lucivando Tibúrcio de Alencar and Leandro José Santos de Barros. Santos was working on the day of the accident at Cindacta-1, in Brasilia. According to the accusation, his conduct was negligent and he failed to observe safety rules, directly causing the collision between the two aircraft.

"According to the indictment, he did not note the disappearance of the signal of the Legacy's transponder (the anti-collision device which warns the pilot of the possibility of a midair collision); he did not direct the [Legacy] pilot to make a frequency change, and he did not heed the altitude level in the airway and turned the flight over to his relief without alerting him of the irregularities."

[My note: Besides the slight imprecision in the description of the transponder, which unaccountably was off line for 50 minutes in the Legacy cockpit before the collision, the language in this news account is remarkable. That's because from day one, it has been argued here (and confirmed by a subsequent report by the National Transportation Safety Board) that Brazilian air traffic control mistakenly had both aircraft flying at 37,000 feet over the central Amazon, on a direct collision course.]

According to the Estado account, the convicted controller's lawyer, Roberto Sobral, said that an appeal will be filed with the Superior Military Tribunal and if necessary with the Brazilian Supreme Court. Estado reports that Sobral "said that his client did not have a sufficient level of English to direct a foreign pilot - in this case, the Legacy's crew."

That, again, is remarkable language, in that systemic deficiencies in Brazilian air traffic control were the "probable cause" of the crash, according to the NTSB report. My own reporting along these lines, from day one, created a furor in Brazil and led to a lawsuit and a criminal proceeding against me for causing "insult" to the nation of Brazil. Both are pending.

[My note: English, of course, is the language of global aviation. Air traffic controllers are required to use English. One of the strong criticisms of Brazilian air traffic control, which I heard and hear repeatedly from international pilots, is a lack of basic English-language communications skills.]

The convicted controller's lawyer said: "The conviction is unacceptable. We were not allowed to prove that he doesn't speak English and was made to sit at a console and coordinate the flights of foreign pilots." And, the report said, "The lawyer further remembered that another trial of the controller is underway, in the Federal Court in Sinop, Mato Grosso." [The collision occurred over northern Mato Grosso state.]

Essentially, as Richard Pedicini points out, here is what Santos was convicted of (and given the minimum sentence for):

-- he did not note the disappearance of the signal of the Legacy's transponder
-- he did not direct the Legacy pilots to make a frequency change,
-- he did not heed the altitude level in the airway and
-- he turned the flight over to his relief without alerting him of the irregularities.

The Amazon collision led to a huge protest by Brazilian air traffic controllers -- angry that they might be blamed for deficiencies caused by a badly maintained and poorly managed air traffic control system, which is operated by the Brazilian Air Force. The controllers protest actions caused a months' long major disruption in Brazilian air traffic. Then a few months later came another crash, this one at the Sao Paulo airport, that killed 200.

After a lot of furiously xenophobic public emotion -- disgracefully stirred by the Brazilian media, the defensive Brazilian authorities, and lawyers representing some of the families of those killed in the Amazon crash -- it may be that some degree of reason seems to have settled on this awful, horrible case.

We shall see. The group representing some of the victims' families have been on a publicity campaign to further vilify the two American pilots, and to try to persuade Brazilians that each and every of the 191 million of them is a "victim" of the American imperialists. No doubt, they will weigh in anew.

Meanwhile, remember that two innocent American pilots remain on criminal trial in Brazil, on trumped-up charges.


1 comment:

ChefNick said...

Great. Brazil, with your multinational technical SWAT team, come and kidnap the two innocent pilots, take them, torture them in your prehistoric prisons, and watch them die.

Just go ahead. But you're going to have to step over my dead body first. Mine and about 230 million others.Let's just see if you can pull that off like you pulled off the tragedy of flight 1907.