Do ATC Recordings Absolve Brazil Bizjet Pilots?

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A Brazilian newspaper says the American pilot of an Embraer Legacy 600 bizjet that collided with a Brazilian airliner last month was flying at the altitude assigned by air traffic control. Folha de S. Paulo reported Thursday that transcripts of the radio exchange between the controller and the aircraft show that the Legacy crew was told to climb from its flight-planned altitude of 36,000 feet (appropriate for its northwesterly heading) to 37,000 feet, where they clipped a GOL Boeing 737. The airliner crashed, killing all 154 people aboard. Legacy pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino were able to land the damaged Legacy at a military airstrip in the Amazon jungle with no injuries to the seven people on board. They entered another nightmare when the investigation began. They were accused of deliberately turning off their transponder so they could fly the aircraft illegally without detection by ATC (it was the airplane’s first trip, a ferry flight from the Embraer factory in Brazil to its new owner ExcelAire in New York). Their passports were taken by Brazilian authorities to force them to remain in the country while criminal charges were considered. The two have consistently denied the charges against them and maintained they were flying according to ATC instructions.