Report places blame for 2006 crash on two pilots

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The Brazilian Air Force on Wednesday released a report stating that two Long Island pilots, including one from Westhampton Beach, are partially to blame for the midair collision over Brazil in 2006 that resulted in the deaths of 154 people traveling on another passenger jet.

However, the 266-page report also places some of the blame on the Brazilian air traffic control officers on duty that fateful day.

The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) commented on the report this week, stressing that the Long Island pilots who were flying a Brazilian-made Embraer-135BJ Legacy for Ronkonkoma-based charter jet company ExcelAire did not contribute significantly to the midair collision. Instead, the NTSB said it finds fault with the air traffic controllers in Brazil, and the rules and regulations that govern Brazilian air space.

The extensive report, authored by a branch of the Brazilian Air Force, states that it takes into account as part of the investigation how prepared Jan Paladino of Westhampton Beach and Joe Lepore of Bay Shore, the pilots of the Embraer-135BJ Legacy, were for their flight. The report also looks into the operation of their passenger jet’s collision avoidance system, comprising a transponder and radio navigation equipment, because the unit was turned off at the time of the collision.

Because an American-made airplane, a Boeing 737-8EH, was involved in the midair collision, the NTSB commented on the report. The Boeing plane, which was operated by Gol Airlines, was carrying 154 people when it collided with the smaller jet piloted by Mr. Paladino and Mr. Lepore and crashed in the Brazilian jungle. There were no survivors.

The NTSB, in its comments, points a harsher spotlight on the work of the Brazilian Air Traffic Control, and the rules that govern Brazilian air space. The federal agency determined that Brazilian air traffic controllers should have informed the Long Island pilots that their transponder was turned off, according to the response.

The NTSB additionally states that the evidence featured in the Brazilian report on the mid-air collision “does not fully support … that the crew of the [Embraer-135BJ Legacy’s] flight planning, or amount of time spent planning, contributed to the accident.”

Messages left at Mr. Paladino’s Westhampton Beach home were not returned this week.

David Rimmer, the executive vice president for ExcelAire, disputed the findings of the Brazilian report. “There is no reliable evidence that the transponder failure was reflected on the Legacy’s cockpit display,” he said in a prepared statement. “On the other hand, an important factor in the accident was the undisputed evidence of the failure of [air traffic controllers] to recognize the transponder failure and to provide increased separation as required by international aviation regulations.

“If [air traffic control] had increased aircraft separation as required, the accident would have been avoided,” Mr. Rimmer continued.

The small passenger plane piloted by Mr. Paladino and Mr. Lepore was flying from São José dos Campos, a city in the Sao Paulo State of Brazil, to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, at the time of the accident. The pilots managed to safely land the damaged aircraft. The Gol Airlines Boeing was en route to Rio de Janeiro from Manaus, the capital of the Amazonas State of Brazil, when it crashed.

Just a few days before the report was made public, a Brazilian judge dropped some of the charges filed against Mr. Paladino and Mr. Lepore in June 2007.

Joel Weiss, the Uniondale-based attorney representing both Mr. Paladino and Mr. Lepore, explained that the pilots were charged with unintentional endangerment of an aircraft, an offense punishable by three years in prison in the Brazilian justice system.

Under Brazilian law, the charge of unintentional endangerment of an aircraft comes with three “legs,” Mr. Weiss said. A Brazilian judge dropped one “leg” of the charge, Mr. Weiss explained, which he noted was a significant step.

Still, Mr. Weiss said he strongly disagrees with the continued prosecution of his clients.

“The case against the pilots is completely baseless,” Mr. Weiss said. “This accident was caused by a string of catastrophic errors committed by Brazilian air traffic controllers. In essence, they put and kept these two planes on a collision course.”

Following the fatal accident. Mr. Lepore and Mr. Paladino also faced charges stemming from a civil lawsuit filed in the United States by the families of some of those aboard the Gol airlines flight that crashed in the rain forest. These charges were dismissed this summer, Mr. Weiss said. However, the civil lawsuit could still be refiled in Brazil, according to Mr. Weiss.

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