Lawyer Points Finger at Brazilian Air Traffic Controllers

A pilot's statements suggest that Brazilian air traffic controllers set the two planes on a collision course.

Torricella said the U.S. pilots switched the jet to auto pilot early in the flight and kept it that way up until the collision. Before reaching Brasilia, he said, the pilots flew at 37,000 feet, which controllers were aware of, and pressed the "IDENT" button more than once on the jet's transponder, which verified it was working.

"Joe and Jan flew the entire flight under the belief that the transponder was operating," Torricella wrote.

Some time after Brasilia, the pilots tried to re-establish radio contact with air traffic controllers by following "customary procedures," Torricella said. The pilots briefly heard controllers ask them to switch frequencies but lost the signal before recording the new frequency numbers, he said.

The pilots were still trying to re-establish radio contact when the collision occurred, he said.

Days after the accident, a Brazilian judge seized the pilots' passports to keep them in the country during the investigation, and they've been confined since to a hotel in Rio de Janeiro. Representatives of the jet's U.S. owners, ExcelAire, have asked that the pilots be allowed to leave the country.

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