Joe Sharkey: Quite a Different Perspective on the Brazilian Midair

By Robert Mark on May 12th, 2007

Being a passenger on board an airplane that barely escapes becoming a pile of twisted metal and flesh would probably be enough to drive most men’s passions for air safety, at least that’s what I’d say about Joe Sharkey.

Sharkey, the writer who happened to be sitting in cabin of the Legacy when it collided with a Boeing 737 over the rainforest last fall, has thankfully continued to pummel the Brazilian government over the insane conduct of the crash investigation.

He told everyone on his blog a few months back that he was frustrated enough with the proceedings in Brazil, that it was time he moved on to write about something new. But I knew he’d be back.

This week he provided a couple of important resources to helping we armchair investigators try and figure out what happened.

A Jetwhine reader told me yesterday that I had my facts wrong in a piece I wrote about the collision and the most likely cause of the crash was that the Legacy crew never turned on their transponder before takeoff rendering the TCAS system inoperative.

That comment simply doesn’t jive with what I read in the report the Legacy’s operator, ExcelAir put together to refute some of the charges tossed on them and their pilots by the Brazilian government.

But perhaps I missed something so please take a look and decide for yourself.

Transponder Technical Info

Clearly the transponder was working for a portion of the trip out of Sao Paulo. There is recorded ground radar info with the data blocks that indicates information was being received from N600XL before the collision.

As for the cockpit comment about the “TCAS being off,” I find that as a pilot, the explanation makes sense, even if retrospectively it might not to someone who is not familiar with a cockpit.

The pilots made the comment referencing the fact that there was no “TCAS inop” light illuminated on the EFIS display. That would mean TCAS was working at the time of takeoff.

Was “the TCAS [light] off?” The answer was yes.

Obviously, the system wasn’t working at the time of the collision, at least not in the Legacy.

But was it in the Boeing? An issue I still find quite odd to this day is that no one has read a transcript of what was going on in the Boeing prior to the midair. And no one seems to be asking where that information is right now.

While I’m certainly not unsympathetic to the Boeing’s victims or their families, if the Brazilian government is so darned certain the U.S. pilots are the only reason the collision, show us the transcript. I can only conclude that it must somehow serve the purpose of the government to keep the data from the public, both Americans and Brazilians.

In the meantime, take a look at the story Joe got hold of from the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers (IFATCA) November issue of “Controller” magazine that tells the story of the accident, and a well-written brief from the Montreal-based group. I had a bit of trouble linking to Joe’s blog, so head over there and scroll down until you see the magazine cover to read the entire magazine piece.

What makes this transponder debate so incredibly important is that, as the IFATCA report mentions, there is apparently a way the pilots might have disabled the transponder during the flight and been completely unaware of their action.

But the brief also pointed out that no pilot in his or her right mind would intentionally disable this equipment, anymore than they would do “loopty, loops,” with a newspaper reporter, a man brand new to business aviation, sitting in the back seat.

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6 Responses to “Joe Sharkey: Quite a Different Perspective on the Brazilian Midair”

  1. Chad Trautvetter Says:

    Rob, Joe Sharky wasn’t “brand new” to business aviation when he boarded the Legacy. He’s been writing about business aviation since 2005, and I flew with him on a Flight Options press flight in late 2005.

    Also, Joe wasn’t on assignment for the NY Times for the Legacy Flight. He was doing a story on Embraer for Business Jet Traveler when he boarded the twinjet on September 29.

  2. Robert Mark Says:

    I did promise Joe I’d fix that NY Times comment since he is indeed a freelancer. I missed this last line.

    I, of all folks, should also have remembered he was on assignment for BJT.

    Thanks for helping keep those details straight.

  3. Dave Koch Says:


    Regarding the Brazilian government’s insistance on prosecuting the Legacy pilots: If they get away with it and send the pilots to a Brazilian jail, I for one will never fly south of the border again. I wonder how many corporate and airline pilots will take the same stance.

    I believe incidents like this put another damper on new-pilot recruitment (along with long duty days, low pay, lack of respect from management and the public and industry instability),

  4. B N Sullivan Says:


    I have been following this story closely, and I, too, have been wondering about what part of the story might have been revealed by the CVR/FDR from the Gol aircraft.

    Second point, I agree with Dave, above, on the prosecution issue. It should be noted for the record that there is an ICAO treaty, ratified by ICAO’s 189 member states, which mandates that operational investigations of aircraft accidents should be complete before courts attempt to establish criminal negligence.

    Finally, regarding the TCAS — It is the job of ATC is to direct separation between aircraft, is it not? TCAS is a supplementary aid for collision avoidance, not the primary means.

  5. Rob Mark Says:

    Another item I’m really having trouble with is that despite the chaos in the ATC system in Brazil, it hasn’t slowed down the numbers of foreign carriers one bit.

    What in the world is preventing the same kind of midair from happening again?

  6. world of warcraft hacks Says:

    S?o Paulo ? melhor. Its the best city in Brazil, with lots of cool things.

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