Brazil air controller convicted over 2006 crash

By Stan Lehman
Associated Press / October 27, 2010

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SAO PAULO—A military court convicted an air traffic controller for his role in the 2006 collision of a Brazilian airliner and a business jet that killed 154 people, Brazil's official news service said Wednesday.

A Boeing 737 operated by Gol Lineas Aereas Intelligentes SA collided with an Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet and crashed into the Amazon jungle, killing everyone aboard. The Legacy, owned by Ronkonkoma, New York-based ExcelAire Service Inc. and flown by two American pilots, landed safely.

Air force Sgt. Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos was sentenced Tuesday to 14 months in jail for failing to take action when he saw that the Legacy's anti-collision system had been turned off, Agencia Brasil said. Four other controllers were acquitted for lack of proof, it said.

The five were tried by a military court because air controllers are in the Brazilian air force.

Santos' lawyer, Roberto Sobral, told Globo TV's G1 website that he will appeal the conviction and that Santos will remain free pending the outcome of the appeal process.

"The conviction is unacceptable," Sobral said. "He does not speak English and was obliged to coordinate a flight involving foreign pilots."

Joel Weiss, attorney for the two American pilots, said that "if one wanted to pinpoint the causes of the accident they would be the shortcomings of Brazil's air control system."

"But Santos was the individual who failed to recognize there was no transponder signal and primarily failed to recognize he had two flights in front of him heading toward each other on a collision course," Weiss said.

The two pilots of the Legacy -- Joseph Lepore of Bay Shore, New York, and Jan 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.

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.

The crash was Brazil's worst air disaster until a jet ran off a slick runway less than a year later at Sao Paulo's domestic airport and burst into flames, killing 199 people. top stories on Twitter

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