Few thoughts of Thanksgiving in Rio

By Robert Mark on November 22nd, 2006

As Day 56 dawns, Joe LePore and Jan Paladino are spending Thanksgiving in Brazil. The two have been under virtual house arrest since the late September mid-air collision between their Embraer Legacy jet and a Gol Airlines Boeing 737.

While fully admitting I am no diplomat – and few pilots I know truly are – some have tried to frame this crash as something criminal. But a search for crimes, as well as the criminals some think are responsible, is simply reprehensible to people from any country.

The crash between these two aircraft was a horrible, life-ending accident plain and simple. That’s a civil aviation safety matter and one that is deserving of all the time necessary to discover precisely what happened. We need to learn what occurred in order to prevent it from ever happening again. The facts seem pretty clear at this point from after reading the preliminary report issued from the Brazilian government today through the NTSB. Both airplanes were flying precisely as they had been ordered; flying the course and altitudes they’d been assigned. Neither apparently received any calls from the ground to alter their path prior to the collision.

Sources also say that the Brazilian air traffic control system, the group responsible for keeping an eye on both of these airplanes, has some pretty severe internal personnel problems to fix right now. The Associated Press reported yesterday that the signs are pointing to a Brazilian air traffic controller having given the Legacy an incorrect altitude in their initial clearance.

As Joe Sharkey said in his On the Road column in the New York Times yesterday, the real crime is that the two U.S. pilots, men who have not been charged with anything, are simply languishing in a Rio hotel unable to leave the country until someone can figure a diplomatic alternative. And no one seems to have any idea of if, or when, they will be able to leave either.

So here’s a request. Contact your legislators. Call them, write them, e-mail them, anything that will call attention to the fact that these two guys are still essentially pawns in some legal quagmire. Every piece of communications counts. Almost no one I’ve spoken to realized until a few days ago that these two were still in Brazil.

We have to fix that first and not give up until they’re both on an airplane back to the States. Only when they’ve come home can we begin to address the larger issue of how ICAO member states should or should not be handling these kinds of civil aviation matters.

My guess is the Brazilian govrenment is quickly running out of any reasons to be able to hold on to these guys. But that doesn’t mean you should stop pestering every legislator you know.   


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