The Brazilian Air Force confirmed that the São José dos Campos’s air control tower authorized the Legacy jet to fly at an altitude of 37.000 feet, which ended up causing Brazil’s worst accident ever, with 154 deaths.
Brazilian authorities, however, don’t call their mistake an error but just an imprecision. And their admission doesn’t exonerate the American pilots who flew the Legacy from blame.
"N600XL. Clear, 370, Manaus." These were the precise words used by the São José dos Campos flight controller to authorize the Legacy’s take off on its maiden flight to the United States, on September 29. According to Brazilian Air Force officers, these instructions were not wrong, but could have been more precise.
Whatever the instructions, they contend, they should have been checked against the flight plan by the American pilots. As an unnamed officer from FAB (Brazilian Air Force) told O Estado:
"The controller should have said ‘as filed’ or ‘according to flight plan’ at the end of his sentence. A Brazilian pilot would have understood perfectly this order. But the American might have gotten confused, inferring that he could fly at 37,000 feet through Manaus. Every pilot knows that when you change flight direction you also change your altitude. To say that he misunderstood is just a way to escape responsibility."
New reports show that Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Palladino contacted the Brasília air control tower (Cindacta 1) when they were 58 miles from the Brazilian capital. At the time they had the following dialogue with the flight controllers:
"N600XL reaches 370. Good Afternoon", says the Legacy pilot, informing that he is at 37,000 feet. The controller answers saying, "N600XL activate your identity." The code appears on the control center’s monitor. The controller then informs: "Under radar surveillance".
Also according to O Estado, soon after the Boeing accident over the Amazon jungle, the flight controller who assisted the Legacy’s take off in São José dos Campos, a sergeant-major with 30 years of experience in the field, was so shaken by the tragedy that he asked for a leave of absence.