Brazilian Air Official Calls US Pilots Wrong-Way Driver Who Blames Cop for Crash

According to Globo TV network’s Jornal Nacional, Brazil’s most traditional prime-time news show, the Legacy jet that collided with the Boeing 737, provoking the worst air tragedy ever in Brazil, didn’t follow its flight plan and was at the wrong altitude when it hit the Boeing with 154 people aboard.

Globo says that its reporters were shown the original flight plan for the Legacy jet, which was flown by two American pilots,  Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladin, who were taking the plane to the United States.

They left from São José dos Campos, in the interior of São Paulo, the city where the brand new jet had been manufactured by Embraer.

According to the flight plan, the corporate jet  should have kept an  altitude of 37,000 feet from São José dos Campos to Brazilian capital Brasí­lia.

From Brasí­lia on the plane should have descended to 36,000 feet and then once again change to 38,000 feet 513 km later or 307 km before the crash.

The plane, however, according to Globo kept always an altitude of 37,000 feet placing it on the path of Gol’s Boeing 737.

To the Brazilian authorities the American pilots have insisted that they just complied with the flight plan. The document obtained by Globo, however, suggests that the pilots have lied to the investigators. Had they followed the flight plan they would be flying at 38,000 feet and no collision would have happened.

The pilots say they didn’t change their altitude because they lost contact with traffic control. The Jornal Nacional noted, however, that they hadn’t followed instructions before, when they passed through Brasí­lia. At that time, they should have then lowered their altitude. There is no information that there was any problem of communication then.

José Carlos Pereira, the president of Infraero, the Brazilian aviation authority, compared the pilots action to a driver who is speeding the wrong way, crashes head on into another car, then get out of the car and blames the traffic cop for the accident.

‘The pilot, the ultimate authority inside a plane, knows very well when he is flying in the right or the wrong way of an airway," says Pereira.

The airways, he explains, are like avenues, with previously established directions  by the traffic laws. Between Manaus and Brasí­lia the odd-numbered altitudes are only used by planes flying in a north-sound direction while the even-numbered one are for those flying in the opposite direction.

For Infraero’s chief, for being at an altitude of 37,000 feet the Legacy’s pilots were automatically in the wrong way.


  • Show Comments (15)

  • Carlos Simones

    Let’s Mourn with dignity
    I’m not North American but I live in the USA, I’m also a simulator pilot (Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004), plus I have flying experience in small aircraft (I do not have a license). I thoroughly enjoyed Ed’s post, because it is very consistent with the International rules of flying. One of the basic rules of driving in most countries is that; when a traffic cop(police) gives an instruction that conflicts with say a traffic sign or traffic light, then the the traffic cop must be obeyed. It’s only logical isn’t it?
    A human being will always give instructions based on the current road and traffic conditions, taking many factors into consideration that a sign or traffic light can’t.

    The pilots of the Legacy admit that they were always at 37,000 feet, the black boxes confirm that, and the Air Traffic Controllers also confirm that. Rather than show that they were lying, it shows that they have consistently told the truth. Did they get clearance for 36,000 or 38,000ft? The black boxes and Brazilian air traffic controll indicate that they did not. As mentioned before, a flight plan is a request, it is not permission. Permission is given based on an analysis of all the flight plans submitted for travel during the period, as well as actual air trafic at the time.
    In view of the foregoing, it’s difficult to place the blame at the foot of anyone, there is too much missing information. For example:

    1. If the pilots were at the wrong altitude, why didn’t Brasilia ATC (Air Traffic Control) ask them to change altitude?
    2. Why weren’t the GOL pilots notified that an aircraft was approaching them at 37,000ft?
    3. Why didn’t the anticollision warning system on either plane warn the pilots?
    4. Why is it that the Legacy pilots lost contact with Brazilian ATC, yet they were able to communicate with another nearby airplane just after the accident?

    My heart goes out to the families of those who died, but it is not possible for me to blame anyone with so much information lacking.

  • Tenney Naumer

    Well, Jony, it appears that you need to do a lot more learning about this unfortunate crash. The pilot of the Legacy was instructed to fly at 37,000 feet all the way to Manaus. When air traffic controllers give orders, they must be followed instead of the original flight plan. They know more about what is going on up their than the pilots — this is why they are called “controllers”! All evidence now shows that the American pilots were not lying about anything at all, they were behaving in a serious and professional manner at all times. The fact that they got that plane back down to the ground with no injuries shows that they were incredible! In fact, because of the lack of any contact with any control tower, they had to resort to contacting another plane in the region which guided them to the military landing strip. Professional pilots who fly over that region all know that they have to contact the pilots of other planes in that area in order to guide each other through that region safely. So, I again ask this question: Why was there no Brazilian pilot or copilot on the Legacy? Surely Embraer also knew of the gap in radio contact in that region of the jungle. They sell many planes that have to be flown out of the country. What is their company policy concerning delivery of their aircraft to foreign owners? Do they have a policy? Was it followed?
    I have a lot of sympathy for the Brazilian air traffic controllers. They are extremely underpaid. They are in the military and therefore cannot complain like civilian air traffic controllers.
    I will add that I have lived in 3 foreign countries for a total of 18 years, and I have never been so ashamed and embarrassed by an American president. Thank God he will be replaced in another two years! But, at least when something goes wrong in the United States, we have to look to ourselves for solutions and cannot blame the problems on someone else.

  • jony

    reality check
    The reality of all is that “media circus” is everywhere in the world and certainly not any different in Brazil. Press leaks in most cases are done by incompetence or inexperience of an individual within a department rather than an orchestrated effort. Ironically, the same “media” quite often contributes to insure the transparence of the due process.There is plenty of bias nationalism to go aroundÀ¢€¦ without a doubt; The truth of the matter is that at this point of the investigation data-collecting phase, all the indicators are not so favorable to the small jet. The job of the government and international investigators is to go thru all the technical evidence available to reconstruct what really occurred on the skies above the Amazon forest. The Brazilian authorities have at their hands the SIVAM system, which has been in operation now for about 12 years. The following insert is a public information description about the SIVAM SYSTEM that by the way the US is very much familiar with, and hopefully it would bring accuracy and transparency into this tragic accident. À¢€œSIVAM infrastructure comprises three regional surveillance centers in Manaus, Porto Velho, Belem and a general coordination center in Brasilia. All centers have stations and servers to process incoming data from satellites, specially equipped aircraft, and ground sensors. The regionÀ¢€™s environmental data is delivered to the centers via a Network Systems of geostationary satellite, located above the equator. The transponder dedicated to SIVAM is in the satellite and the data derives from an array of 424 small aperture terminals with the Brazilian government planning to install 900 more terminals. The terminal sites allow personal computer (PC), telephone and fax access to the four centers in addition to transmitting data. Authorized users at the terminals can access a À¢€˜catalogÀ¢€™ of information products. The four centers receive and archives a steady stream of data to create the information products from SIVAM sensors, multisensor and earth observation satellites. As part of the SIVAM system is an upgraded satellite ground stations for the INPE (the Brazilian institute for space research). The earth observation satellites include the Landsat 7, SPOT 4, Radarsat, and ERS-1 and -2. Data also comes from three additional satellites: GOES, a weather satellite accompanied by three ground stations; TIROS, a polar orbiting satellite that provides weather and atmospheric data and includes a ground station in Manaus; and SCD-1, a Brazilian satellite that acquires data from ground stations, such as water levels and rainfall. Information from these satellites largely serves to monitor the AmazonÀ¢€™s rain forest environment, but it also can be accessed by the regionÀ¢€™s air traffic control.Twenty-five ground radar sites are linked to the Manaus center by a Comtech/Alcatel satcom system. Five sites that have Thomson CSF radars are integrated into the SIVAM network. In addition, Raytheon is supplying seven ASR-23 solid state, L-band, two-dimensional (azimuth and range) primary radars with integrated monopulse secondary radar, and seven stand-alone Condor Mk 2 monopulse secondary radars. They are 3D-capable to monitor aircraft that are not equipped with transponders. The radar sites, along with five additional sites, also serve as telecommunications centers, incorporating both VHF and UHF transceivers. The Raytheon VHF digital radios provide voice-only, and the Rohde and Schwarz UHF/VHF radios can transmit voice and/or data. They all transmit to Manaus via Comtech/Alcatel satcom. The Manaus air surveillance center is equipped with a “blended” ATC system, to make the centerÀ¢€™s addition to BrazilÀ¢€™s air traffic control as seamless as possible.À¢€Â

  • Polo

    KARL if you think what you’ve seen here is bad, you should see comments posted by Brazilians on other articles.
    Absolutely profane and obscene.
    I posed a question as to why they’re acting irrationally anti-american over this GOL crash, and I get back an endless litany of vitriolic stereotypical rhetoric, insults, rants and tirades directed at the USA, past present and future, and in wholesale fashion.
    Comments like, we are racists, imperialists, arrogant, feel superior to everyone else, that they’re next to be invaded, even comparing us to Nazis and sympathizing with same. Exaggerations, half-truths, hysteria and stereotypes…
    I took them on, but it got ugly – real ugly.
    This experience totally changed my view that Brazil(mostly) was somehow a very peaceful and polite society. Turns out many feel isolated from the outside world, extremely nationalistic, paranoid and suspicious of foreigners. Obviously many Brazilians feel that our entire nation of 300 million, among others, is an imminent threat to their existence. Astonishing.
    I fear now the american pilots will be lynched by a mob, regardless of whether they are innocent or guilty of contributing to the accident.

    Wait and see what the replies are to my justified condemnation, and you will know.

  • Karl

    I just wish everyone outside the US would’nt attack us for our Governments policies. I don’t favor what they do always and Yes we are in an unpopular war. War is always unpopular. I can’t say if it was right or wrong to attack Iraq but it sure gave a lot of people freedom.If we went to Brasil and killed 2000 people I bet they’d declare war on us. Do people really want to be ruled by terroirism??? I don’t. I have nothing against Brazilians and I understan their anger but what does Iraq have to do with them exactly? Why are they making everyone mad at them? Doesn’t make sense to me.I always wanted to go there and see their country but guess my mone is not welcome.

  • Ed

    Worrisome Inconsistencies.
    A flight plan is only a request for airspace use. The actual altitude and route to be flown are determined by an air traffic control clearance À¢€“ the pilotÀ¢€™s authorization to operate on a route at a given altitude. Altitudes requested on flight plans are standard altitudes for direction flown. This is not limiting and it is not extraordinary for a pilot to request or for a controller to assign a different altitude. Less commonly, controller assign a À¢€œwrong-wayÀ¢€Â altitude for traffic separation purposes when there is no opposite direction traffic. This is unusual in non-radar airspace. Not being at the altitude on their flight plan, or one normal for direction, is not an indication the Legacy crew was wrong. That can only be determined theirclearance and subsequent events.

    Absent a clearance to climb/descend, the Legacy was required to maintain 37,000 feet. Only in the event of a communications failure is an aircraft required to maintain the altitude in the flight plan but only after 20 minutes past their last reporting point. This gives ATC time to ensure that there is no conflicting traffic.

    Upper airspace is controlled by en-route centers not towers. Centers are divided into sectors. The collision occurred in Amazonica (Manaus) Center airspace about 10-15 minutes north of the boundary with Brasilia Center. I believe that the Brasilia sector is under radar control while the Amazonica sector is not. Amazonica airspace has areas with limited communications capability.

    Reports concerning the LegacyÀ¢€™s altitude make no sense. Consider the claim that the crew maintained 37,000 feet through BrasiliaÀ¢€™s airspace as proof of crew error. Normally, but not necessarily, the crew would have been cleared to change altitude after passing Brasilia and before reaching Amazonica airspace. It is over 400 nm from Brasilia to the boundary À¢€“ about one hourÀ¢€™s flying time. If the crew had been cleared to change altitude after passing Brasilia and didnÀ¢€™t, it would be a major issue and Brasilia center would have queried and challenged the crew until resolved. If the crew did not acknowledge a clearance to a new altitude, Brasilia center would take extraordinary steps to insure there were no traffic conflicts. That neither of these scenarios seems to have occured lends credence to crew claims they were at the proper assigned altitude while in Brasilia centerÀ¢€™s airspace. One would expect that the Legacy would have been cleared to either 36,000 or 38,000 feet prior to leaving Brasilia’s radar controlled airspace. Brasilia would have responded to a failure to respond to the clearance in the same way plus alerting Amazonica that the Legacy was experiencing problems. If the aircraft left Brasilia airspace at 37,000 feet in anticipation of being cleared to operate at 36,000 or 38,000 in AmazonicaÀ¢€™s airspace, then there are serious questions about exactly what Brasilia and Amazonica centers actions were and whether communications were established after the boundary.

    The Jornal Nacionalˢ۪s claim about the pilots being at the wrong altitude in Brasiliaˢ۪s airspace as proof of the Legacy crew being at fault is the same as saying that Brasilia center watched the aircraft transit their airspace at the wrong altitude, while under radar control, and handed the flight off to Amazonica center, that has no radar in this area, knowing that the flight was at the wrong altitude. Then, either Brasilia did not inform Amazonica or Amazonica did nothing to clear other traffic from that altitude. This does not seem credible.

    Regarding the comments of the president of Infraero, I think he is being quoted at a rate that is unsupportable given his obviously limited expertise in this matter.

    It is clear that this is a tremendous tragedy and my heart goes out to all involved. However, a rush to judgement will not answer important questions. It will take time to determine what happened here and patience and open-mindedness is required in the interim.

  • Guest

    Read books Paola, I recommend you a good one “State of Denial, Bush at War Part III” by Bob Woodward.

    iT’S a freaking explanation that Brazil is all against americans. If people do not like the deceitful and arrogant American government, that’s one thing. What Brazilians perceive related to the Am govt does not change their lives towards anything else. Go be a victim in Guantanamo, Iraq or Lebanon please.

  • Polo

    I have little reason to doubt the competence and professionalism of the American pilots. I do concede it is possible they acted negligently here, but I doubt it when considering the likelihood of governmental incompetence. Said governmental incompetence, historically and everywhere, has had a irrefutable tendency to cover its own hide when the heat is on while placing blame upon and stringing up the individuals involved.
    So if this seems like a political circus, full of intrigue, smokescreens, delays and backpeddling on the part of government officials, then there is just cause for suspicion.

  • leslie

    I am an US pilot with 28 years experience, the last six on Learjets. Flying in the States is easy, but we really have to pay attention when flying international because flight rules vary sometimes a little from country to country. It’s not always crystal clear what a controlling agency’s intent is. We hire international handlers to do our flight planning in the interest of safety. My understanding of the situation with the Legacy pilots is their flight plan was filed at an altitude of 37,000 feet. Unless told otherwise by ATC, the assumption there would be to fly the entire flight plan at that altitude, even if the airways call for a different altitude. The breakdown in communications is usually not due to dialect difficulties, but simply due to the fact that flying over the Amazon is like flying over water. There are no high quality communications available. You have to communicate via long range radios and transfer through a third party. I believe the pilots were diligently trying to re-engage the lost contact with the facility they were using when the midair occurred. Regarding the failed transponder, it has not yet been established which transponder was not functioning, however, Honeywell, the maker of the Legacy transponder has had problems with their transponders inadvertently going into the standby mode, unannounced to the crew. Regarding the anti-Americanism, I can understand where that’s coming from, and without elaborating, let it be known that not all Americans are in agreement with current US policy. So attacking individuals to gain revenge against a larger institution is ineffective, immoral, and inhumane. I appreciate the high level of reason and maturity I am reading in the previous posts. As a US citizen, Thank you!

  • cacau

    To EDDIE:Bravo!
    I found courageous, intelligent, fair and sensitive your longer post in the previous thread. All that is necessary to write everything what is there. Congrats. Hey, Justice great nickname, I hope such element is not forgotten in the world.

    Another example of imperialism, to Polo:

    Veja Magazine, march 22 2006: Is there a right manner to make opposition to profoundly anti-American leaders such as Hugo ChÀƒ¡vez, in Venezuela, and Evo Morales, in BolÀƒ­via without, at the same time, run over the popular will of the majority of electors who voted for them?

    Karen Hughes, Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs in the US State Department: Obviously, we would like that democratically elected leaders govern democratically, allowing freedom of press, manifestation and opinion. But as the Secretary Condoleezza Rice said now in Chile, we are willing to work with the government of all politic spectrums.

    The whole interview is a jewel… I remember how I found that deceitful help attempt of the American government to remove ChÀƒ¡vez from power sickning.

  • céu cinzento

    Indignation and sadness is the emotional response to humam fault tragedies and injustices. I couldn’t care less if the the culprits are Brazilians, Chinese or Americans.I want the truth, above agendas of different parts. Stick to the facts poster above. I do not understand and help a supportive argument that an irresponsible person is not the causal agent of a consequence.

  • Kevin

    Politics vs. Safety
    They so badly want this to be the fault of some Americans. The emotional response will contaminate the investigation, if it has not done so already. If they discover it was actually the fault of a Brazilian source they will try to cover it up because their political attempts to lynch these two pilots will be a major embarrasment.

  • Jim

    I agree …
    completely with Mr.Naumer. Jony’s offensive comment and sarcasm is a perfect example of the rabid antiamericanism that has blinded those who rush to judgement: hopefully, public opinion hasn’t equally contaminated the investigation of the accident. The pilots may indeed be guilty … of commiting a terrible tragic mistake. To accuse them of intentional imprudence is unwarranted based on the evidence known up to this point, and as such, is not only an injustice, but may in the end help hide other possible causes, and other guilty parties. If the pilots are found to be completely responsible for the error, or if further evidence comes to light that proves that they were intentionally imprudent, then ***by all means*** they should be punished. But …until they are convicted in a court of law, and allowed to defend themselves, this whole thing is nothing more than a political circus.

    The president of Infraero’s comment is completely baseless and deliberately inflammatory: to say that the pilots lied is ridiculous, since they **never denied** that they were flying at 37000 feet. They obviously thought that they were correctly following the flight plan, and they also obviously know that the investigators will confront their information with the archived flight plan (which makes them no less guilty of error, but not of lying about it).

    Sorry Jony, but the prize goes **to you** — if you are incapable of listening to another person’s opinion and responding to it — even arguing against it — in an intelligent and non-offensive manner.

  • Jony

    Hi Tenney !
    Wow…what are the chances of one person to be this naive…this stupid and on drugs? Congratulations Mr.Naumer …the prize is yours!!!

  • Tenney Naumer

    Brazilian plane crash
    The hysterical rush to judgment against the American pilots has been shocking to me, even though I have lived here for more than 9 years. It seems clear that the two pilots believed that their flight plan was to fly all the way to Manaus at 37,000 feet. They did not fill out their own plan. This was done by Embraer personnel. So, the question is: How did they become confused on this point? Also, who made the decision to permit two foreign pilots, who do not speak a word of Portuguese and who have never flown in Brazilian airspace, to fly the plane out of this country? Does Embraer have a company policy that covers this issue? Was the policy followed? Sure, tower communications are in English. But, as someone who has been a passenger in airplanes for more than 43 years, in many parts of the world, I can tell you that the people in the towers have English with an accent. Brazilian-accented English can be difficult to understand, especially if the voice is deep. Also, I was amazed that the pilots did not have at hand a list of the country’s tower radio frequencies. It seems like something that all planes should have, especially in this day and age when such data can be downloaded into an onboard computer. What is up with that? Further, I am astonished at the enormous number of Brazilians who are more than willing to believe that the pilots turned off the transponder and anti-collision system in order to disobey the tower and test drive the jet or perhaps fly at a different altitude just because they felt like it. First, there is a black box onboard that records all of the actions and conversations of the pilots. Hello!!!! Next, who would do such things in a $25 million new jet with the owner and the aircraft manufacturer (and a reporter from the New York Times) on board? And what pilot would do this when he or she has lost contact with the tower? A great deal of ignorance and not much common sense is in action, here, at the moment — I have no idea where this will end, but if those two pilots had been out on the street, I think a mob would have torn them to bits. Before the invasion of Iraq, there was already a lot of anti-American sentiment, here, but now, this country is about 99% anti-American, and this mid-air collision has let the floodgates open.

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