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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."


  • Show Comments (8)



  • Freight dawg

    You guys are right , I find it troubling that the Brasilian authorities seem to have the mind fixated on the idea that the American pilots are at fault , be it for “turning off the transponder” , “being at the wrong altitide ” again all their fault.

    whatever the true causes are , it’s likely that they will never come to light , and men might end up in jail for this.

  • ch.c.

    What a shame !
    For a while we read all over the place how the Amazon was well covered with the best technology and the best ATC….while the US pilots, of course, were responsbile.

    They were accused by every single brazilian : general public, “apparent” experts, pilots and pilots associations, generals and brigadiers from the army, the defense Ministers and even Amorim !

    And all this before the end of the investigations……..of course ! Typically Brazilian.

    Now it looks like more and more that the Air Traffic Controllers and/or eventually a failure from the transponder.

    But Brazilians insist that….NOOOOOOO…..it is still the US pilots who are the ones to blame.

    Every brazilian mentionned earlier, agreed that the US pilots may be accused of Involuntary Manslaughter….if found guilty !

    But no brazilian or judge agree by now that should the responbility be with the ATC, that these people should be accused of Involuntary Manslaughter.
    And of course, also quite normal that no ATC passport should be taken just as the
    brazilian justice did to the US pilots.

    Brazilian justice is not a real justice, but just a justice that will follow the government
    instructions and policies, not the Brazilian laws.
    A multi speed and facet justice, depending of who should get impunity and who should get accused and found guilty.

    Brazil is a Tropical mess and mud. Everything is stinky, dirty and rusty.

    If one wants to avoid problems, avoid Brazil. Brazilians just want to take and give nothing back in return. They feel that what they do is right…when on almost all country comparisons they are at or the queue and at the bottom of rankings and ratings.

    Reciprocity and fairness are not even words and facts in the Brazilian daily way of life.

    An antiquated and archaÀƒ¯c country ! Nothing works except violence, injustice and corruptions for which they truly excel !

  • Stephen

    James, you are right, but Brazilians never, ever will take the blame for anything. Incompetence regins the country, from avaition, hotels, restaurants, goverment, store clerks and the beat goes on !!!

  • Nabo

    I was once on a long Varig flight where the flight crew apparently turned on the autopilot and went to sleep. The plane flew through the center of a thunderstorm. The plane shook violently, dove steeply, and shook violently again. People were screaming and things were flying around the cabin (maybe people too, I was too busy holding on to look). After the plane regained normal attitude and people stopped screaming, the pilot got on the intercom and said in a panicked voice “Everyone – put on your seatbelts!”. I think that we had figured that out by then. Anyway, that was the last time that I flew on Varig.

  • alltheway

    THey will walk when the price is right, do you remember a few years ago a commercial airliner ran out of gas over the Amazon because the pilots were listening to a soccer game and lost track of the fuel level and their location ?. That would ndver and has never happened in another country.
    Only in Brasil, not a serious country and doing everything each day to stay that way

  • ex pat

    It is a witch hunt.
    I have the niggling feeling that you are correct James. As each new piece of information comes to the fore, trumping whatever allegations and theories were presented to assail blame to the American pilots, a new series of even wilder theories are concocted. It does appear that no matter what the evidence will eveidentually point to, the American Pilots are marked to take the final blame.

  • James

    Something Smells Fishy
    I have a gut feeling that we might never get the real story here.
    Everyone is trying to Cover their Asses. The families and friends of the
    deceased deserve the truth.

    Disgusted in Philly

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