Pilot in Brazil 2006 crash denies responsibility

AP News
Posted: Mar 31, 2011 6:01 PM
Pilot in Brazil 2006 crash denies responsibility

A U.S. pilot involved in one of Brazil's worst air disasters appeared before a Brazilian judge by videoconference on Thursday, denying allegations that his plane's anti-collision system was disconnected at the time of the 2006 crash.

A Boeing 737 operated by Gol Lineas Aereas Intelligentes SA collided with the Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet piloted by Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino. The smaller plane, owned by Ronkonkoma, New York-based ExcelAire Service Inc., landed safely while the larger jet crashed into the jungle, killing all 154 people aboard.

The Sept. 29 crash was Brazil's worst air disaster until a jet ran off a runway less than a year later in Sao Paulo and burst into flames, killing 199 people.

Lepore of Bay Shore, New York, and Paladino of Westhampton Beach, New York, face charges in Brazil of negligence and endangering air traffic safety for allegedly flying at the wrong altitude and failing to turn on the aircraft's anti-collision system.

"We knew that the TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) and the transponder were on, but we had no indication that there was anything out there, no display, no warnings, no pop-ups," Lepore told Judge Murilo Mendes. "We didn't know anything for sure. All we knew is that our transponder was working. If there was another plane out there it could have been their equipment that wasn't working."

Paladino, who was questioned by Mendes on Wednesday, also denied any responsibility for the crash.

Mendes said he expected to hand down a verdict in late April.

In December 2008, a Brazilian air force report concluded that the two pilots might have contributed to the crash by inadvertently turning off the plane's transponder and collision-avoidance system.

However, the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board blamed the collision mostly on shortcomings in Brazil's air traffic control system.

"We are indignant at the pilot's statements," said Anne Caroline Rickli who lost her mother in the accident. "For us, it is clear that the transponder and the TCAS were disconnected."

In October of last year air traffic controller Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos was convicted for failing to take action when he saw that the Legacy's anti-collision system had been turned off.