Two American pilots involved in Brazil's worst air crash had difficulty communicating with Brazilian air traffic controllers while seeking clarification about the altitude they should fly at just hours before their executive jet collided with a passenger jet last year.
And a minute before the Sept. 26 air disaster that killed 154 people, one of the pilots said he had radio trouble, according to a transcript of the pilots' cockpit conversations published by the Folha de S. Paulo newspaper, Brazil's largest.
"I've got a problem with the radio here," said one of the American pilots, who was not identified by name, in comments that were not clarified.
The Brazilian-made Embraer Legacy executive jet and Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA Boeing 737-800 then clipped each other over Brazil's Amazon rainforest, and the larger jet plummeted into the jungle, killing all aboard.
The transcripts also disclosed the conversations between pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, both of Long Island, New York, during their harrowing descent before landing safely with their five passengers at a Brazilian air force base. One said "Uh oh" just after impact, and the two complained they had no contact with controllers while in the air before the collision.
While Brazilian officials have accused the American pilots of failing to descend to 36,000 feet at a predetermined point after their takeoff, the pilots have contended they never received instructions from air traffic controllers to alter their altitude during the flight - and were therefore required to stay at 37,000 feet while heading from Brazil to the United States to deliver the brand new jet.
Folha published excerpts in Portuguese of what it described as a 112-page cockpit transcript on Sunday, saying reporters were allowed to take notes from a copy translated from English to Portuguese that is part of the investigation into the crash under way by Brazilian Federal Police.
Folha said the transcript was originally transcribed by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, and also published excerpts of conversations by Brazilian air traffic controllers.
NTSB spokesman Ted Lopatkiewicz confirmed Monday that the board produced a transcript of the cockpit recorder conversations at the request of Brazilian authorities, but declined to say whether the agency has a copy.
It was unclear who made the translation of the pilots' English conversation into Portuguese. Lopatkiewicz said the NTSB usually transcribes the conversations into the language used inside the plane, and Folha indicated it examined the transcript after it had been translated into Portuguese.
Less than three hours before the crash, the pilots confirmed that they were supposed to fly at 37,000 feet with air traffic controllers in the southeastern Brazilian city of Sao Jose dos Campos, where they had taken delivery of the plane from Brazilian manufacturer from Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica SA, the world's fourth largest jet maker.
They then asked several times to reconfirm approved altitude, but were repeatedly given different information about their flight by the control tower before receiving the altitude information they wanted, and one of the pilots complained about the communications problem later after the jet had taken off. It was not clear from the transcript how the apparent misunderstanding happened.
During the flight, one of the two pilots also voiced complaints about Brazil's air force, which is in charge of the nation's air traffic control system, according to the transcripts published by Folha. The pilots were not identified by name, but as "Hot 1" and "Hot 2," Folha said.
Just before the crash, Hot 1 revealed that he was experiencing a radio problem.
Then, after a note in the transcript described as "Sound of impact," one of the pilots who was not identified said, "Uh oh."
"What the hell was that," Hot 1 asked?
"It's OK, just fly the plane," Hot 2 answered.
Shortly thereafter, the two asked each other whether they had seen anything before the impact. Hot 2 said he was trying to make radio contact, adding "They're not going to respond to the radio."
Less than several minutes later, the pilots discussed the jet's transponder, which transmit a plane's altitude and operates its automatic anti-collision system.
Brazilian authorities have claimed the pilots should have noticed that the jet's transponder, known as a TCAS, was not working at least 50 minutes before the collision. A preliminary report said it wasn't clear whether the transponder malfunctioned or was turned off by the pilots.
Within minutes after the collision, Hot 2 said, "Do you have the TCAS turned on?"
Hot 1 responded, "Yeah, the TCAS is turned off."
The discrepancy was not explained.
During or immediately after landing the jet at the air force base, the pilots concluded that they must have collided with another airplane, were never given instructions to change altitude, and had been abandoned by air traffic controllers, the transcript said.
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