Brazil Detains U.S. Pilots After Presumed Midair

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It's one thing to be involved in an apparent midair collision. It's another to survive it -- even though all aboard the other aircraft perished. But it's beyond the pale when the country in which you made an emergency landing accuses you and a fellow crewmember of several regulatory violations, seizes your passport and detains you for the after-crash investigation. So it is with U.S. pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, who were crewing a brand-new Embraer Legacy 600 jet when it allegedly collided with a Boeing 737 Sept. 29 in Brazilian airspace. After the apparent collision, the other aircraft, a Gol airlines Boeing 737-800, reportedly spiraled out of control before breaking up at low altitude and crashing in the Amazon jungle. All 154 passengers and crew aboard the Boeing were killed.

After the collision, the Legacy -- just having been delivered to its operator, U.S.-based ExcelAire Service, a charter company based in Ronkonkoma, N.Y. -- diverted safely to the Cachimbo Brazilian air force base with damage to its left winglet and left horizontal stabilizer. There were no injuries among the two crew and five passengers. According to published reports, the apparent collision occurred in or near a "seam" in Brazilian radar coverage over the Amazon jungle, where two different ATC facilities' responsibilities overlap. Although no final finding has been issued, published reports indicate the Embraer was following one airway at FL370 and was cleared to descend to FL360 upon joining another airway. At this time, exactly what happened is not clear: Was the Embraer past that airway intersection and did it fail to descend? Brazilian authorities say they may charge Lepore and Paladino with manslaughter -- they say the Embraer was at the wrong altitude with its transponder turned off.