Boeing Tragedy: Brazil Air Force Goes Looking for Blind Spots

While Waldir Pires, the Brazilian Defense Minister, continues repeating that Brazil’s air space is one of the safest in the world and that communications between pilots and air traffic control centers are excellent, Brazil’s Air Force commander, brigadier Luiz Carlos Bueno begs to differ or at least to be skeptic about it.

He is in fact so upset with the just-released preliminary report on the September 29 Boeing crash over the Amazon jungle, showing that for 27 times the control tower in Brasí­lia and the American pilots in a Legacy executive jet tried unsuccessfully to talk to each other, that he has ordered a nationwide probe on radio frequencies in search of black holes or blind spots in the Brazilian communication system.

"This is something that we cannot allow to happen," brigadier Bueno told daily Folha de S. Paulo. Pires, however, continues denying any problem: "There is no black hole. The information I have is that the radar spaces between Brasí­lia and Manaus even overlap."

The investigation, which might start this weekend, will consist of a plane crossing the Brazilian air space in all directions. The Air Force’s Special Flight Inspection Group (GEIV) will be in charge of the task.

In the days following the accident, the Air Space Control Department (Decea) informed, after flying over the area, that radar and radio equipments were in ship shape and couldn’t be blamed for any lack of communication between pilots and flight controllers.

The report conducted by the Air Force investigators, however, pointed out that flight controllers from the Cindacta 1 (Brasí­lia) for seven times tried in vain to talk to the Legacy. Joe Lepore and Jan Paladin, the American pilots – the black box revealed – were even more desperate in their efforts to reach the control tower. They had 19 attempts  but failed all of them.

The preliminary report released November 16 hasn’t answered some vital questions: what caused the crash between the small executive jet and the Boeing 737 resulting in the deaths of 154 people and the worst air accident Brazil ever had? What were the mistakes that ended up putting the Legacy and the Gol’s Boeing on the same 37,000 feet crashing path?  

Between 3:51 pm and 4:26 pm, roughly half hour before the collision the two planes didn’t try any contact. The reason for that isn’t explained in the report, but it was during this period that there was a change of shift in the control tower.

According to Veja magazine, the flight controller who was in charge of the Legacy told the colleague who replaced him that the plane was having trouble with its transponder.

The new controller, however, might have been misled by a technical detail: the control center computers corrected automatically the position of the Legacy on the monitor to the altitude (36,000 feet) that the plane should be even though the small jet was still at 37,000 feet.

Three minutes before the crash, the controllers in Brasí­lia finally made contact with the American pilots. They told them that they should now report to the Amazon region’s air control center, the Cindacta 4.

Lepore and Paladino could not understand the message and made seven attempts to talk to Brasí­lia, but didn’t get any answer.  The last was at 4:56:53, one second before the shock.

They finally reached Cindacta 4. Unfortunately, at that time, the collision had already occurred, 17 minutes earlier.

And that connection only happened thanks to the help of a cargo plane who was in the area and made a bridge between pilots and flight controllers translating into Portuguese what the American pilots were saying but could not be understood by the Brazilian air controllers.

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