Almost Two Months after Crash, Brazil Questions Air-Traffic Controllers

Police on Monday questioned air-traffic controllers on duty at the time of Brazil's worst air disaster as part of their investigation into why a private executive jet collided with a Boeing 737 over the Amazon nearly two months ago.

The interviews were the first with the controllers since the Sept. 29 midair collision between the Embraer Legacy jet and Gol Airlines flight 1907. Gol's Boeing 737 crashed into Brazil's dense jungle, killing all 154 on board, while the executive jet landed safely with all seven people aboard unharmed.

Inspector Rubens Jose Maleiner was expected to hear from 13 air traffic controllers in Brasilia and Sao Jose dos Campos where the Embraer Legacy 600 took off on its maiden voyage heading to the United States, said a federal police spokesman who declined to be identified according to department policy.

Aviation authorities had previously refused to grant federal police access to the flight controllers citing the Convention on International Civil Aviation, also known as the Chicago Convention, designed to protect information given voluntarily to investigators.

All of the air traffic controllers on duty at the time of the crash had been suspended without pay and were reportedly receiving psychological counseling.

The flight controllers' depositions could prove important because tower recordings suggest the Legacy was authorized by the tower in Sao Jose dos Campos to fly at 37,000 feet (11,300 meters) to the Amazon city of Manaus, which would have put the plane in air space normally reserved for planes traveling in the opposite direction for at least part of the journey.

A preliminary report on the accident pointed to communication failures between the Legacy and the control towers as being the most likely cause of the accident.

Last week a Brazilian air force investigator said warning systems failed on both the executive jet and the commercial airliner before the two planes collided.

Delays in the investigation have left the Legacy's two American pilots Joseph Lepore, 42, of Bay Shore, N.Y., and Jan Paladino, 34, of Westhampton Beach, N.Y. holed-up in a Rio de Janeiro hotel after a judge ordered their passports seized shortly after the crash.

On Saturday, a Brazilian federal court turned down a motion to return the two men's passports saying the pilots must remain in Brazil until the investigation into the cause of the crash was completed. Something authorities said could take months.

The two pilots have not been arrested but prosecutors have said that could be charged with involuntary manslaughter if they are found responsible for the crash. The pilots have denied any wrongdoing.

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