Hearing on U.S. Pilots in Brazil Called a "Circus"

By Robert Mark on June 9th, 2007

When Joe LePore and Jan Paladino – the two U.S. Legacy pilots, where released from house arrest in Brazil late last year, everyone wondered if they’d ever be called back to testify.

And let’s face it, we’ve all wondered what we’d do if we were in their places when our presence was demanded in a country with a system of justice so different from our own. Would any trial, could any there be fair?

The two pilots were indicted last week and charged by the Brazilian Federal Police with being responsible for the mid-air collision over the Amazon that claimed the lives of all 154 people aboard a Gol Airlines Boeing 737. Four Brazilian air traffic controllers were also charged in the tragedy although the final aviation safety report detailing any probable cause is not yet complete.

Some members of Brazil’s Camara dos deputados, the equivalent of the U.S. House of Representatives, expressed outrage Wednesday at a hearing in Brasilia on the accident where Embraer employee Daniel Bachman testified. Bachman, the Brazilian-born son of two Americans, was a passenger on the Legacy.

Most supporters of President Lula’s government responsible for the indictment had hoped Bachman would point the finger at LePore and Paladino.

Calling Wednesday’s Congressional hearing “a circus,” Jetwhine’s reporter in Brazil added, “They wanted Bachmann to say he provided the U.S. pilots with instructions on how to fly the plane. The lawyers of some victims want to prove that the pilots were not familiar with the plane.”

Both pilots attended Flight Safety Training on the Legacy before the flight. Paladino also flew an ERJ-145 – similar to the Legacy – for Continental Express. 

Jetwhine also learned, “Brazilian Congressional representative Vic Pires, one of the main critics of the U.S. pilots, wanted Bachmann to say he heard the pilots admit the TCAS/Transponder was turned-off. They are saying that Bachmann is only trying to protect the pilots because they became friends.”

Playing to the national TV cameras, Pires presented transcripts at the hearing from an unknown source that again claimed to document “stunt flying” by LePore and Paladino before the collision.

“Someone on TV called Bachman a liar because he would not accuse the pilots of any wrong-doing,” our reporter explained. “Quite the opposite, Bachman said that the pilots are fully qualified to fly the Legacy and that he would fly again with them at any time.”

The next step may well be a Brazilian government demand for the appearance of LePore and Paladino. We asked our reporter for his assessment of the consequences if the two pilots fail to return to Brasilia. “Not returning to Brazil would mean LePore and Paladino would give-up the opportunity to prove that they are innocent.”

“I understand that a decision to return to Brazil is very difficult,” our reporter admitted. “They had a difficult time here and were victims of absurd accusations. If they decide simply to forget that Brazil exists, I would certainly understand.”

Another question on everyone’s mind is what happens to the next crew that runs afoul of a foreign civilian bureaucrat over an aviation matter in Brazil or any where else in the world.

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