Bye-bye, Brazil! I’m Jumping Out Here

That's all folks

And thanks for the use of the hall, as they used to say. I finally turn in my
wings on the Brazil crash story. For eight months, I’ve tried, with what I would
say is notable success, to report the developing story of the September 29 air
crash in detail and with accuracy. Yes, I have been harsh when I thought it
necessary. And yes, I have resorted to unseemly ridicule when I thought ridicule
was necessary.

But the toll of personal advocacy journalism has finally reached the point where I can’t pay it anymore.


I did this all independently, as a freelance writer, and at a pretty high price.


I owed nothing to no one, except perhaps the honorable Richard Pedicini, an American in Brazil who, on his own, contacted me in November to offer his services translating Portuguese reports and, as time went on, even doing his own reporting on court proceedings and the like.


I’ve known many fine and honest journalists in my life. Mr. Pedicini, whose background is in banking, not journalism, ranks among the finest because his motives were pure and basic: to report what happened, to drive at the truth, and to keep at it day in and day out.


Mr. Pedicini, whom I always jocularly referred to here as “our São Paulo bureau chief,” was in fact just that. His agenda was and is pure: to get it straight. And he was getting it from Brazil.


I have been called an apologist for ExcelAire and for the accused pilots. That was never, ever true. I just reported the facts as I knew them. Aside from a strictly social occasion, when I was invited to be at the homecoming in Long Island when the pilots were released from Brazil in December, I have not met the pilots since we parted company after the crash in Brazil, and I have never been able to interview them back in the U.S. about the crash itself.


I make no excuses for manifest failings in this blog, including failings of tone. There have been no failings in accuracy that I know of.


“You sound too obsessed,” someone said.


I had my reasons.


This has been my show from day one; my own way of dealing with what happened to me, to the rest of us who survived and, most importantly, with the 154 who died. I felt from the beginning that those tragic deaths were cynically exploited by the Brazilian authorities in what I will always regard as an odious attempt to shift blame away from the real problem – an infamously unsafe and badly maintained air-traffic control system – and onto the Americans as scapegoats.


If I had to employ images of the Keystone Kops and Three Stooges to underscore my point, so be it. So they were rude. They also were funny. Ridicule has its purposes.


There was never profit or benefit here for me. Far from it. I grossly neglected doing paying work to do this, and for the most part it was misery – which I suppose is a form of therapy.


I want no medals. They gave me one in Vietnam. That and US$ 2.99 will get me a cup of coffee at Starbucks.


But my Brazil posts on this eccentric blog do hold up, and they’ll stand up years from now, as accurate and honest journalism that was done at a time, on the run, when no one in the mainstream press was interested in getting involved. For those of you who might be interested, I’m going to put all of the Brazil stuff in a separate archive linked to from this blog.


Meanwhile, in Brazil, we’re back to nonsense. The aerial maneuvers! Have I singlehandedly revived Whac-a-Mole as a metaphor? It goes on and on.


But I cannot.


Thanks again to Richard. Thanks to dozens of other sources, including investigators and Brazilian officials who could not be named. And thanks to the dozens of international pilots who tuned in, and got it, and turned me in the right direction when my heading was off.


And thanks and lifelong affection to the other six of the Amazon Seven. That was one hell of a trip, guys. We probably shoulda gone to Atlantic City instead.


The rest is up to the mainstream press, which can afford to pay the price if it wants to invest the effort. Because this story is very far from over.


But for me, it’s over and out.


Joe Sharkey writes, mostly about travel. He has been a columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer, a reporter and editor for the Wall Street Journal and a columnist for the New York Times. On September 29, he was one of seven people aboard a business jet involved in a mid-air collision with a commercial 737 over the Amazon. All 154 people on the 737 died, while the business jet managed to land at a jungle airbase. Sharkey’s account of the crash appeared on the front page of the New York Times and later as a 4,000-word magazine article in the Sunday Times of London. Comments can be sent to Sharkey_Joe@yahoo.com  


This piece appeared originally at “Joe Sharkey At Large,” the author’s blog, which can be found in www.joesharkey.com.

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