Early analysis of the flight data recorders from two planes that collided in Brazil's deadliest air disaster indicated the smaller jet's transponder was not signaling its location at the time of the accident, Brazil's defense minister said.
All 154 people aboard Gol Airlines flight 1907 were killed on Sept. 29 when the Boeing 737 crashed into Brazil's dense jungle after clipping an executive jet.
Defense Minister Waldir Pires told reporters Thursday that initial analysis by the International Organization of Civil Aviation in Canada showed the transponder aboard the Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet was not broadcasting the aircraft's location.
"There is still no confirmation if the transponder was turned off or if there was an interruption because of equipment failure," Pires said. "That we don't know."
The Legacy, on its maiden flight to U.S. purchaser ExcelAire Service Inc., landed safely at a Brazilian military base with none of the seven people aboard harmed.
Pires also said the Legacy's data recorder showed the pilots told air traffic controllers in the nation's capital Brasilia they were flying at 37,000 feet (11,300 meters) as they approached the city.
"The position of 37,000 feet (11,300 meters) until Brasilia was the normal position," Pires said. "After Brasilia (the plane) should have dropped to 36,000 feet (11,000 meters)."
The crash occurred after the plane passed Brasilia and air traffic controllers lost contact with the Legacy.
The Legacy apparently collided with the Boeing at 37,000 feet (11,300 meters), an altitude reserved for planes traveling in the opposite direction. Investigators were trying to determine how the smaller jet came to return to the higher altitude, and were considering possible error by the pilots or controllers.
Earlier this week, Pires said the Legacy appeared to be following its flight plan after it passed Brasilia, the first time since the accident that a Brazilian official acknowledged that radar had tracked the Legacy's altitude.
Controllers previously said they were unable to track the plane's altitude because its transponder stopped transmitting shortly before the crash.
Air force officials said they had completed the recovery of the victims' remains, but said troops would remain at the jungle crash sight to continue investigations.
"The investigating commission has been (at the crash site) since the first day," air force commander Gen. Luiz Carlos Bueno told reporters in Brasilia. Bueno said it was unclear how long the investigation would take.
The two Legacy pilots, Joseph Lepore, of Bay Shore, New York, and Jan Paladino, of Westhampton Beach, New York, have had their passports seized to prevent them from leaving the country. While they have not been arrested, they remain holed up in a Rio de Janeiro hotel as the investigation proceeds.
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A Brazilian newspaper said the Legacy did had not responded to air traffic control orders to descend to 36,000 feet after it passed Brasilia.
"The tower normally thinks of when an airplane is taking off and what is its final destination, but it isn't what determines the altitudes and course of things."