American attorneys representing the families of victims in Brazil's worst air disaster filed suit in a U.S. federal court Monday against ExcelAire Service Inc. and Honeywell International Inc. alleging negligence.
The suit filed in the Eastern District federal court in Brooklyn, New York, alleges that ExcelAire's pilots were flying at the wrong altitude at the time of the crash that killed 154 people and failed to initiate a series of procedures once they noticed they had lost communication with the tower.
The suit says Honeywell, which manufactured the plane's transponder, was negligent for having provided a transponder that "was not safe and fit for its intended use."
Transponders send out signals alerting air traffic controllers and other aircraft about the location of a plane.
The Sept. 29 collision between an Embraer Legacy business jet newly purchased by ExelAire and Gol Airlines Flight 1907 killed 154 people over the Amazon rain forest. The Legacy managed to land safely with all seven people aboard unharmed.
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.
While recent reports seem to suggest that the pilots had been ordered to fly at 37,000 feet (11,278 meters), their filed flight plan stated they were to drop to 36,000 feet (10,973 meters) after passing Brasilia and then rise to 38,000 feet (11,583 meters) some 500 miles (800 kilometers) later before reaching the jungle city of Manaus.
Complicating matters, the pilots lost contact with controllers around Brasilia and their transponder appeared to have stopped working.
"There was a loss of communication. The pilots should have noticed that communications weren't working and there were plenty of reasons to notice and plenty of procedures that should have followed and we believe they did not," said Lexi Hazam, an attorney with the San Francisco law firm Leiff, Cabraser, Heimann & Bernstein, by telephone from Brasilia.
The official investigation into the crash has not yet been completed and Air Force officials who had traveled to Canada, where the planes' flight recorders were being analyzed were scheduled to return only Monday.
But Hazam said her firm, which represents 13 plaintiff families, said its independent investigation had access to information from "an authoritative source in Europe" that has not yet been made public
Hazam's firm said it would explain that information in greater detail at a press conference in Brasilia Tuesday.
A spokeswoman for ExcelAire said in an e-mail that company was aware of the suit and was preparing a reply.
Honeywell spokesman Bill Reavis said Monday afternoon in a statement the Morristown, N.J., technology and manufacturing company hadn't seen the lawsuit and couldn't comment on the specific allegations.
"Honeywell is not aware of any evidence that indicates that its transponder on the Embraer Legacy was not functioning as designed or that Honeywell was responsible for the accident," he added in his statement.
Brazilian authorities have seized the passports of Legacy pilots Joseph Lepore, of Bay Shore, N.Y., and Jan Paladino, of Westhampton Beach, N.Y., to prevent them from leaving the country, although 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, who have denied any wrong doing, have been staying at a hotel in Rio de Janeiro's Copacabana beach district for the past month.
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