American Pilots Can’t Be Made Scapegoats of Brazilian Tragedy, Says Lawyer

In his first appearance as the lawyer for the two American pilots involved in the Boeing accident in the Brazilian jungle that killed 154 people, José Carlos Dias, a former-minister of the Justice, said that his clients were positive that they had not done anything wrong or illegal to cause the accident.

Dias, who was minister of Justice during the Fernando Henrique Cardoso’s administration, has been retained by ExcelAire – the American company that had bought the Brazilian-made Legacy jet that collided with Flight 1907 – to defend the two pilots.

Although the American pilots haven’t been charged with any wrongdoing there have been insinuations that they turned off the Legacy’s transponder making aircraft undetectable to Brazilian air controllers and the Boeing 737 that collided with the smaller plane. Both had their passports taken away by the Brazilian authorities.

The lawyer assured reporters that Joe Lepore and Jan Paladin didn’t turn off any equipment in the plane. To think otherwise, he said, would be an inconsideration to serious and veteran professionals who would never risk this way the life of the passengers they were transporting.

The ex-minister observed that the pilots have their conscience in peace but they also that even though they didn’t cause the accident "they took part in the tragedy."

Dias, however wouldn’t comment on the altitude – 37,000 feet according to several reports while it should be 36,000 feet – the pilots were flying: "The altitude matter is a little controversial. They said they were at the flight plan’s correct altitude and that they tried to communicate with the tower and didn’t get any answer."

The lawyer informed that he had called and talked to Brazilian Justice Minister Márcio Thomaz Bastos, who is an old friend. He also got in touch with Paulo Lacerda, the Federal Police’s chief, and put both pilots at the police’s disposal for any clarification that might be needed.

The Americans have already been interviewed four times by the Brazilian authorities: at the Serra do Cachimbo Air Force base where they landed soon after the accident, by the Mato Grosso state police, and twice in Rio de Janeiro by investigators peering into the disaster’s details.

Lepore and Paladin are staying in Rio de Janeiro, in a secret location. The US Consulate authorities are in touch with them and giving them asistance, according to the Brazilian media.

Dias informed that the American pilots had practice flying the Legacy, but he could not say whether they were inside the plane’s cockpit when the collision occurred. In any case, he said, it ‘s still too early to call anyone guilty.

"It is an inconsideration for any authority to blame anyone at this point. Most especially at this time in which the investigations are not concluded. This would just be looking for a scapegoat," said Dias.

The reporters wanted to know if the pilots had turned off the jet’s transporder, that equipment that is part of the aircraft’s anti-collision system and is also used by the air control to monitor the plane. The former minister denied any wrongdoing by the Yankee pilots: 

"They were flying in a first-rate, brand-new Embraer plane with the president of the company aboard. It’s unconceivable to think they would make any mischief in the air in a flight like this. There is no way they would engage in any kind of exhibitionism," stated the lawyer.

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