ExcelAire, the American company that bought the Legacy jet, the aircraft that ended up causing Brazil’s worst air accident ever, with 155 dead, has retained a former Brazilian Justice Minister to represent it in a court of law if necessary.
The Yankee firm has also hired a communication agency in Brazil to defend it in the court of public opinion. The public-relations firm Burson-Marsteller has already announced that it will soon release a statement with the ExcelAire’s official position in the case.
The Law Offices of José Carlos Dias, Minister of Justice during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso administration, will be in charge of the juridical area.
ExcelAire says it is afraid it will become a "scapegoat" in the case. The American company fears its pilots will be subject to a trial by press while it doesn’t have ways to defend itself.
Dias has already called the current Justice Minister, Márcio Thomaz Bastos, who is an old friend of his and also talked to the chief of the Federal Police, Paulo Lacerda. His intention was to smooth some rough edges in the case and to say that his clients are ready to give any additional explanation.
Joe Lepore and Jan Paladin, the two pilots, have had their passports confiscated while the Brazilian authorities try to figure out if they in any criminal way have contributed to the collision with Gol’s Flight 1907.
Lepore and Paladin, according to reports in the Brazilian media are furious at the news that present them as guilty for the accident. They have been screaming their innocence saying that they never pushed any button that might have turned off the jet’s transponder.
It has been suggested by investigators that the pilots might have turned off the equipment in order to evade detection by the Brazilian air traffic control and maybe fly faster or practice some daring maneuver.
It’s the transponder that sends air control all the plane’s data and also activates the anti collision system. Investigators have found that the transponder was off when the collision occurred.
This might be due to a mechanical problem, but the experts point out that the equipment was working when the plane took off from its Embraer manufacturer in São José dos Campos and worked again after the crash with the Boeing.
Both pilots have also complained about communications during their flight mainly in the Serra do Cachimbo where the accident happened. They say they tried unsuccessfully several times to contact air control.
Joe Sharkey, the New York Times journalist who was aboard, has already said that they had to find a place to land using maps since they weren’t able to get any help from air control.
Lepore and Paladin have already given three depositions: one to the Mato Grosso police, another to officials at the Serra do Cachimbo Air Base where they landed and still a third one to air accident experts in Rio de Janeiro. They cannot leave the country and might be arrested any minute if they are found guilty by the investigations taking place right now.
Investigator say they still have four main questions: 1) Why the Legacy’s transponder was turned off? 2) Why did it start working again soon after the collision? 3) Why did the pilots not follow the flight plan, that called for an altitude change from 37,000 feet to 36,000 feet from Brasília on and finally; 4) Why was there a breakdown in communications between the Legacy and the Cindacta-1, the Brasília’s control center?