Victims' Families in Brazil Air Disaster File 2nd Lawsuit in U.S.

A second U.S. law firm has filed a lawsuit against the operator of a business jet involved in the country's deadliest air disaster, alleging pilot negligence led to the accident.

The complaint, a copy of which attorneys gave the Associated Press on Thursday, cites ExcelAire Service Inc. of Ronkonkoma, New York, and its New York pilots, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, as well as Honeywell International Inc., saying its "defectively designed" equipment contributed to the crash.

The Embraer Legacy jet collided with Gol Airlines flight 1907 on Sept. 29. Gol's Boeing 737 crashed into Brazil's dense jungle, killing all 154 on board, while the Legacy landed plane safely with all seven people aboard unharmed.

The lawsuit was filed in a U.S. District Court of New York on behalf of Suellen de Abreu Lleras, whose husband and son were killed. Monica Kelly of the Chicago, Illinois-based Ribbeck Law told a news conference Thursday in Sao Paulo that she expects to represent the families of 25 more victims by the end of next week.

Alessandro Freire Norango, who lost his wife and 2-year-old daughter, said he also has asked for representation.

"All I want is that those responsible for the accident be brought to justice," Norango said, choking back tears. "Money is secondary."

The complaint, filed Monday, alleges that the Honeywell-made transponder, which sends out signals alerting air traffic controllers and other aircraft about the location of a plane, failed to "function properly," leading to the collision.

"Defendant Honeywell had a duty to exercise reasonable care in its design and manufacture" of the transponder used in the jet, the complaint said. "Honeywell breached this duty by defectively designing, manufacturing and marketing" the transponder.

Honeywell media relations manager Paul Loughran said Thursday that the company was not aware of any evidence indicating that the jet's transponder was not functioning as designed or that Honeywell was responsible for the accident.

"The National Transportation Safety Board and the Brazilian authorities are still investigating the tragic crash and have not yet determined a probable cause," Loughran said.

The complaint also accused ExcelAire and its two pilots of acting "carelessly and negligently."

The Legacy was also not flying at the altitude specified in the flight plan and the two pilots failed to operate the transponder properly, it said.

"Someone high up in the Air Force confirmed our theory of negligence by the pilots," said Manuel Von Ribbeck, the law firm's senior partner and one the attorneys of record in the case. "Unfortunately I cannot reveal any names."

The other attorney of record, who was not at the press conference, is Michael Eidson of Colson Hicks Eidson, a Coral Gables, Florida law firm.

Robert Torricella, a Miami, Florida-based aviation attorney representing ExcelAire said that "civil lawsuits filed or to be filed this week arising from that accident are premature, given that the facts surrounding the accident have not yet been fully investigated and established in a comprehensive accident investigation."

A complaint representing other families, also filed Monday in New York, alleges that ExcelAire's pilots were flying at the wrong altitude.

It said they had failed to initiate a series of routine procedures once they noticed they had lost contact with the control tower. The suit also names Honeywell as a defendant.

Investigators have been focusing on why the executive jet was flying at 37,000 feet (11,278 meters), an altitude usually reserved for planes flying in the opposite direction.

An official investigation has not yet been completed and Brazilian Air Force officials who had traveled to Canada, where the planes' flight recorders were being analyzed, returned to Brazil on Monday but have not announced their findings.

Brazilian authorities have seized the passports of the two pilots of the Legacy to prevent them from leaving the country, but the two have not been arrested. Prosecutors said they could charge the pilots with involuntary manslaughter if they are found responsible for the crash.

The pilots have denied any wrongdoing.

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