Brazil Ready to Charge Embraer Pilots

Brazil's federal police have concluded that two Long Island pilots should face criminal charges in the September midair collision that killed 154 people over the Amazon.

While they have not publicly released their report, police in Mato Grosso state, where the crash occurred, confirmed they have concluded their criminal investigation. They would not divulge details. News reports in Brazil said the investigators recommended its Justice Department prosecute private jet pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Palladino - an outcome that was expected because authorities have made a series of statements critical of them.

The report did not focus on the air traffic controllers, stating that any missteps made by them would be handled by the Defense Ministry, which has jurisdiction.

If prosecutors file charges against them, the pilots might have to return to Brazil to face trial and potential prison sentences under an extradition treaty between the two countries.

Joel R. Weiss, the Uniondale attorney representing Lepore, of Bay Shore, and Palladino, of Westhampton Beach, said the pilots were not at fault.

"It would appear that the police have prematurely accused the pilots in response to public pressure and have not conducted a complete and thorough investigation of the facts," Weiss said.

Police accused - but did not formally charge - Lepore and Palladino of accidentally endangering aircraft before they were allowed to leave Brazil in December. At that time the pilots agreed to cooperate with investigators.

Tamares Carvalho, spokeswoman for federal police investigator Renato Sayao, would not reveal the findings or say when they would be announced. She declined to comment further.

A Gol airlines Boeing 737 crashed Sept. 29 after colliding with an Embraer Legacy 600 jet owned by Ronkonkoma-based ExcelAire.

The newspaper O Globo, of Rio de Janeiro, reported that police blamed the pilots for failing to notice the plane's transponder wasn't working until after the crash. The device signals the plane's location and is a key component of the collision-avoidance system.

In a submission to authorities last month, ExcelAire blamed Brazilian controllers, saying they cleared both planes "to fly at the same altitude and the same path, in opposite directions."

The Sao Paulo newspaper O Estado said forensic reports produced by the National Criminalistic Institute confirmed there were lapses by the pilots and controllers.

The pilots' Brazilian lawyer, Theo Dias, told O Estado that "I've never seen an inquiry concluded so rapidly. They have not called anyone from Embraer to testify, much less investigated possible failures in the aircraft's equipment. The accident would not have happened without the controllers' errors."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Multiple investigations

There have been three investigations in Brazil, so far, into the country's worst air disaster.

Criminal investigation. The only criminal investigation, conducted by the federal police, ended this week with a recommendation to prosecute the American pilots employed by Ronkonkoma-based ExcelAire.

Civil probes. The major civil investigation seeking the causes of the collision is being conducted by Brazil's aviation agency with assistance from the U.S. Transportation Safety Board and Federal Aviation Administration. It is expected to wrap up in the fall.

A second civil probe was begun recently by a commission established by the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies to look into the accident as well as other air traffic control lapses. Its investigators hope to have the pilots testify in the United States or in Brazil.



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