Pilots Deny Wrongdoing In Brazil Crash

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U.S. bizjet pilots John Lepore and Jan Paladino are denying accusations they caused a collision with a GOL Boeing 737, in which the airliner crashed and killed all 154 people on board (not 155 reported earlier). The pilots have been openly accused of turning off their transponder so they could perform "pilot tricks" without detection by air traffic controllers. Ralph Michieli, a spokesman for ExcelAir, which owns the Embraer Legacy 600 involved, called the allegations "untruthful, absurd and insulting" in an interview with the Brazilian Web site Folha Online. Lepore and Paladino were quoted as saying they did not turn off the transponder and that they were flying at the proper altitude, assertions that have made Brazilian authorities "furious," according to news reports out of Brazil. The pilots were delivering the factory-fresh Legacy to ExcelAir's New York headquarters when the collision occurred. Despite wing and tail damage, they were able to land safely at a military airfield in the Amazon jungle. Air traffic officials quoted by the Web site Estadao insist that it is "becoming more evident every day" that the transponder on the Legacy was not operating. But Lt. Brigadier General Paulo Roberto Cardoso Vilarinho, director of the Brazilian Airspace Control center, told reporters last week that the pilots had no reason to turn off the transponder because they were flying legally. He also ruled out technical problems with air traffic control equipment as a cause. The preliminary investigation into the crash by the Brazilian government should be finished next week.