Lawyer for American Pilots Involved in Brazil Air Disaster Denies Transponder Was Off

A lawyer for the two Americans pilots of an executive jet that collided with a Boeing 737 in Brazil said Wednesday the smaller plane's transponder was on and working at the time of the accident.

The comments by lawyer Jose Carlos Dias conflicted with reports from air traffic controllers who said the transponder on the Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet stopped transmitting shortly before the larger plane crashed, killing all 154 people. For that reason, controllers said they had been unable to track its altitude.

The transponder transmits the aircraft's location and is used to warn other jets equipped with anti-collision devices that it is nearby. Both planes were equipped with anti-collision devices.

"What we need is for them (the pilots) to be heard, for the (air traffic) controllers to be heard, the recordings have to be heard because it's important to know what happened," Dias told reporters in Brasilia. "The transponder was turned on because they would never have turned it off, and they don't report any equipment error."

Dias, who represents Joseph Lepore, of Bay Shore, N.Y., and Jan Paladino, of Westhampton Beach, N.Y., was in Brazil to arrange for the pilots' depositions before federal police investigating the crash. Dias said a time and place for the meeting had not been set.

Brazilian authorities seized the pilots' passports 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 advances.

The Boeing crashed while 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.

Investigators said the Legacy was flying at 37,000 feet, an altitude reserved for planes going in the opposite direction at the time of the crash - Brazil's worst air disaster.

According to investigators, the plane's flight plan shows the Legacy was to fly at 37,000 feet from the southern city of Sao Jose dos Campos until it changed course over the nation's central capital Brasilia.

At that point, the plane turned northwest and should have dropped to 36,000 feet, they said. After flying another 310 miles, the flight plan said the plane should have risen to 38,000 feet.

But the pilots told investigators they lost contact with air traffic controllers after Brasilia and stuck to the altitude of 37,000 feet, where the collision apparently occurred.

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