Brazil's top court rejects US pilots' appeal in 2006 crash

AP News
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Posted: Oct 16, 2015 7:36 PM

SAO PAULO (AP) — Brazil's Supreme Court has rejected two U.S. pilots' appeal of their conviction and prison sentence for their role in a 2006 midair jet collision over the Amazon that killed 154 people.

The ruling late Thursday ordered pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino to return to Brazil from the United States, where they have been since a few months after the crash, to serve sentences of a little over three years.

The U.S. Embassy did not respond to questions on whether Brazilian officials had formally requested the extradition of the two Americans. Emailed and telephoned requests for comment went unanswered by Brazil's Justice Ministry, through which any official extradition request would flow.

The men's lawyer in Brazil also did not respond to requests for comment on the ruling. The pilots' trial and appeal were both held in absentia.

Maristela Basso, who teaches international law at the University of Sao Paulo, said that although the two nations have an extradition treaty, she has never seen an American extradited to Brazil after being convicted in a Brazilian court.

"But there are cases of Americans sentenced in Brazil who have done the jail time in the U.S.," she added.

Lepore and Paladino were piloting an Embraer Legacy jet when it collided with a Boeing 737 operated by Brazilian airline Gol. The business jet landed safely but the passenger plane plunged into the jungle in the remote north of Mato Grosso state, killing all aboard.

The two pilots were accused of flying at the wrong altitude and failing to turn on the aircraft's anti-collision system. They denied wrongdoing and said their anti-collision system was never turned off.

A representative of the victims' families said the court's decision brought some sense of closure.

"The penalty is very mild, but we have a feeling that somehow justice was served," Rosane Gutjahr said.

"Now there is some relief for us all," she added.

The 2006 collision was Brazil's worst air disaster at the time.