U.S. Pilots Charged In Brazil; Will They Show?

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The lawyer for two New York pilots facing criminal charges in Brazil has suggested they might not return to Brazil to appear in court. Joel Weiss, who's representing Embraer Legacy 600 pilots Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, didn't come right out and say they weren't going to go, but he did tell The Associated Press the extradition treaty between the U.S. and Brazil "does not permit the extradition of a U.S. citizen or a Brazilian for this charge." That charge is one of putting an aircraft into jeopardy causing death and stems from Brazilian prosecutors' allegation that the pilots accidentally turned off the transponder on the Legacy and then didn't follow a flight plan that would have resulted in an altitude change before they collided with a Gol Boeing 737, resulting in the airliner's crash and 154 deaths last Sept. 29. "The pilots' conduct was completely competent throughout the flight and cannot be fairly characterized as criminal," said Weiss. "The allegations against the pilots are inaccurate, and the pilots are innocent." They did, however, promise to return to Brazil to face charges as a condition of their release last December. If they do honor that promise, they'll be on the docket Aug. 27, a day before four Brazilian air traffic controllers get to explain how they may have cleared two aircraft on reciprocal courses at the same altitude. Paladino and Lepore have maintained throughout, and cockpit tapes seem to support, that they were at their assigned altitude and heading when the left winglet of their bizjet evidently sliced into the wing of the 737. The Legacy kept flying, however, and the pilots were able to land it safely at a jungle military base. The indictments came long before crash investigators will finish their probe of the collision, an investigation that will undoubtedly shed light on both the technical and human factors aspects of the events leading up to the accident.