U.S. Firm Blames Brazilian Air Traffic Control for Mid-Air Collision

New York-based ExcelAire said an analysis of air traffic control transmissions and flight recorders in the Legacy "confirmed that both planes were freed by Air Traffic Control to fly at the same altitude and the same path, in opposite directions."


RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil -- The U.S. company that owned the executive jet involved in a mid-air collision with a commericial airliner blamed faulty Brazilian air traffic control for the accident that killed 154 people, according to a report obtained by the Associated Press on Saturday.

The Sept. 29 accident was Brazil's deadliest air disaster. A Gol airlines Boeing 737 and an ExcelAire Legacy 600 jet clipped each other, causing the jetliner to plunge into the Amazon rain forest and killing everyone aboard. No one was injured in the smaller plane.

In a 154-page report to Brazilian federal police this month, New York-based ExcelAire said an analysis of air traffic control transmissions and flight recorders in the Legacy "confirmed that both planes were freed by Air Traffic Control to fly at the same altitude and the same path, in opposite directions."

The company gave the report to the AP on Saturday.

Brazilian officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.

Brazilian investigators say the controllers bear some responsibility for the crash but Defense Minister Waldir Pires recently defended Brazil's air traffic control system as one of the safest in the world.

Pires suggested the collision was the fault of the ExcelAire jet's American pilots because the Legacy's transponder, which operates the aircraft's anti-collision system, was not turned on or malfunctioned.

Family members of those killed in the crash have filed lawsuits in federal court in Miami seeking millions of dollars in damages. They claim the Legacy pilots did not maintain proper altitude or properly communicate with air traffic controllers.

Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based ExcelAire's report also said there were problems with some of the equipment aboard the Legacy, made by Brazilian manufacturer Embraer.

"An avionics component, where some radio communications systems and one of the transponders are installed, was returned to Honeywell (Honeywell International Inc.), the manufacturer, in April 2006 because of operational problems," the report said.

"Despite the functional problems verified in these components ... Embraer decided to install them in the Legacy sold to ExcelAire," it said.

The Legacy was flying from the southern city of Sao Jose dos Campos to the United States when the accident occurred at 37,000 feet, an altitude usually reserved for flights headed in the opposite direction.

Pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, both of New York, were accused by police of exposing an aircraft to danger. Both pilots were forced to remain in Brazil for 71 days after the crash, but were allowed to leave after agreeing to return to face any criminal charges.


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