Did Brazilian Controllers Screw Up?

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Brazilian authorities have detained two U.S. pilots since the Sept. 29 midair collision involving their brand-new Embraer Legacy 600 business jet and a Boeing 737, operating as Gol Airlines Flight 1907. The two pilots, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, have been "guests" of the Brazilian government ever since they managed to land their damaged jet at a remote military base. Authorities held the two -- both a state and a federal judge ordered the pilots to relinquish their passports -- while an investigation was underway. At one point, Brazilian authorities appeared ready to accuse the crew of manslaughter in the Boeing crash. Now it appears an ATC error may be responsible for the collision, which resulted in the deaths of all 154 aboard the Boeing. According to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper and citing a cockpit voice recorder transcript it said it obtained, air traffic controllers reportedly cleared the Embraer to cruise at FL370, the same altitude being used by the Boeing.

Additionally, some 12 controllers on duty the day of the collision have refused to give interviews to Brazilian federal law enforcement officials conducting an investigation. According to some reports, the controllers remain "too traumatized" by the crash to give their testimony. These and other, unrelated, developments prompted an assistant to a Brazilian judge to tell Long Island's Newsday that evidence and changes in public opinion may soon allow the two U.S. pilots to return home. If so, they will be greeted by a lawsuit filed Monday by the victims' families again their employer, ExcelAire Service Inc. of Ronkonkoma, N.Y., and Honeywell International Inc. The lawsuit alleges the two pilots were flying at an incorrect altitude and the aircraft's transponder was not functioning.