Pilots Face Charges For Possible Role In Brazilian Midair
Despite the looming possibility they will face criminal charges
in a Brazilian court over their possible role in a September 29
midair accident, on Saturday two US pilots were greeted with cheers
from about 200 people as they arrived in New York. It marked the
first time Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino have been on US soil
since the accident that claimed 154 lives onboard a Gol Airlines
The two men were at the controls of an Embraer Legacy 600 jet
flying at 37,000 feet bound for the US when it collided with the
southeast-bound 737 traveling on the same airway. The Legacy was at
a nonstandard altitude for the northwest-bound flight, but ATC
transcripts indicate controllers told the Legacy to fly 1,000 feet
higher than the altitude filed on the pilot's flight plan --
putting the two planes on a collision course.
Lepore and Paladino were able to land their stricken aircraft at
a Brazilian military airfield. The airliner, its wing ripped apart
by the Legacy's winglet, fell into the Amazon jungle. Authorities
confiscated the pilots' passports immediately following the
Local police and media were quick to blame the surviving pilots
for the accident, forcing the men to be virtual prisoners in a Rio
de Janeiro hotel for more than two months.
As Aero-News reported, last
week a Brazilian judge agreed to release the men's passports, with
the condition they agree to return to Brazil to face possible
criminal charges. On Friday, authorities formally charged the two
men with exposing an aircraft to danger as they arrived at a
meeting with police before leaving the country.
"They were anxiously awaiting for this opportunity to give their
explanation to police," said Jose Carlos Dias, a lawyer for the
pilots. "(But) before their deposition, we were caught by surprise
with the information that the pilots would be accused."
There is "no question they had permission to be at 37,000 feet,"
attorney Robert Torricella added. "They were never given a contrary
The Associated Press reports that under Brazilian law, a judge
will now decide whether to indict the pilots and send them to
trial... a process that could months. The US and Brazil have an
extradition treaty in place, requiring citizens from one country to
appear in court if both sides agree to the charges.
On Saturday, however, families and friends of the two pilots
focused on the far-happier news of the men's long-delayed return.
One girl who met the pilots at an airfield in Ronkonkoma, NY held a
sign proclaiming "You are the best holiday gift ever."