Brazill: Pilot Who First Helped Legacy Tells For First Time His Version

Alexander Cortez, a Colombian pilot who helped the Legacy jet to find a runway to land after the September 29 collision with the Gol’s Boeing 737, which crashed in the Amazon jungle, is criticizing the way air communication is done in Brazil.

He finds fault not only with the equipment being used in the Amazon region, but also with the air controllers’ inability to speak and understand English.

The pilot, who was never invited by the Brazilian authorities to give his side of the story has talked to TV Record’s news show Fala, Brasil (Talk, Brasil!) this morning, October 23. He says that he is ready to talk and maybe help shed some light in the case.

Cortez was flying a Boeing in the area of the accident coming from Miami to São Paulo when the crash occurred.  He was the first to get in touch with the American pilots of the Legacy while they tried to find a place to land their bruised plane. He believes communication problems might be blamed for the accident:

"At the Manaus (capital of Amazonas state) control center there is a lot of echo in the frequency, there is static, it’s hard to understand what the controllers are saying. In some occasions you have to ask three, four times what they are talking to understand the authorization. There is too much noise".

Cortez tells that he heard the American pilots asking for help and not getting any answer. That’s when he decided to get into the conversation and establish a bridge between the Legacy and the Air Force base in Serra do Cachimbo, in the state of Pará. The Brazilian pilot entered into the picture four minutes after the collision. 

"We heard in the emergency frequency, that the Legacy was asking for help. The pilot knew about an airport nearby but he did not know the name and didn’t have the frequencies contact to land," said Cortez.

While Cortez was able to put the air controller and Joseph Lepore, the American pilot, in touch, it didn’t help much because the Legacy pilot and the controller could not understand each other: 

"The pilot forgot to ask how many meters was the runway. I reminded him: ‘ask how many meters is the runway.’ He asked, but the controller could not understand him. I got into the conversation telling the controller in Portuguese that he was asking how many meters was the runway."

And he adds: "It is so odd that a jet so small as the Legacy can collide with a Boeing and make it fall. It doesn’t click. Something is wrong. The Boeing’s black boxes and the investigations will find the answers".


Talking today, after a ceremony to celebrate the centenary of Brazilian aviator Santos Dumont’s flight in the 14-Bis, brigadier José Carlos Pereira, president of Brazil’s aviation authority Infraero, said that the Boeing accident was the result of a sequence of errors.

Once again he virtually discarded the possibility of any equipment failure and repeated that the accident would have been prevented if the Legacy’s transponder was in operation. 

"From what we know up to now, there was no mention of material failure in any of the two planes, or in the land radars. They were new planes, with modern systems. It is very rare that a transponder  malfunction, it is a very safe equipment."

Pereira also said he doesn’t believe that the Legacy pilots might have confused the controllers’  expression "radar surveillance" with "radar vectoring", when air controllers assume total control of the flight, something that rarely occurs.

"The expression "radar surveillance", in the whole world means that the aircraft is under surveillance, but the plane crew continues to be responsible for the plane’s navigation. And this includes keeping the right altitude and course."

As for language problems, he doesn’t think they have anything to do with the crash, "English is aviation’s universal language. It wasn’t a complex dialog,  there was no imminent emergency,  there was no need to avoid standardization. Aviation lingo is quite standard. Controllers always use the same expressions."


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