‘Enough Is Enough’ Says Lawyer for US Pilots Detained in Brazil for 7 Weeks

ExcelAire, the US-based air-taxi company whose Legacy executive jet collided against a Boeing 737 over the Brazilian Amazon, causing Brazil’s worst air tragedy ever with 154 deaths, has just released a note in which it comments on the preliminary report on the accident released last week by the Brazilian Air Force.

What follows is this note in its entirety:

At a press conference in Brasí­lia on Thursday, the Brazilian Air Force released a preliminary report arising from the safety investigation of the September 29, 2006 accident between Gol Airlines Flight 1907 and an Embraer Legacy jet operated by ExcelAire Service, Inc.

According to Colonel Rufino Antônio da Silva Ferreira, "The moment at which we are in the investigation still doesn’t allow us to draw conclusions. It is premature to say that something caused the accident." He noted that, while he forecasts that it will take ten months to complete the investigation, that time may be extended.

"The fact that the accident investigators, which include aviation authorities from the Brazilian Civil Aviation Department and the National Transportation Safety Board, believe that they are ten months to over one year away from being in a position to reach any conclusions regarding this accident makes it absolutely clear that the continued detention of Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino is unjust and immediately must end," said Robert Torricella, counsel for ExcelAire and its pilots.

Even though conclusions are many months away, the preliminary report disclosed certain facts that the investigations have established. Facts revealed by the preliminary report make it clear that many of the accusations made against the ExcelAire pilots were completely unfounded.

The report notes that, after reaching its assigned altitude of 37,000 feet, the Legacy aircraft maintained that altitude until the time of the collision, disproving the baseless allegations that ExcelAire’s pilots were performing "aerial maneuvers" in flight.

The report confirms a bilateral communication between the Legacy and air traffic control as the Legacy approached Brasí­lia at its assigned altitude of 37,000 feet, and notes that air traffic control never assigned the Legacy to any other altitude after that time, further confirming that the Legacy was at the proper altitude at all times during its flight.

During his press conference, Colonel Da Silva Ferreira also confirmed, as ExcelAire has maintained throughout these proceedings, that a written flight plan is not necessarily the operative document that governs a flight and that, instead, air traffic control clearances can modify the written document.

"The flight plan, the one on paper, it’s a filed plan. It is not absolute," Rufino said. He noted that filed flight plans are not always followed, as written, after take-off and are influenced by other circumstances, a cautious reference to air traffic control instructions that modify and supersede the written document.

"We are confident that, as additional facts come to light, they will continue to establish that Joe and Jan have been the victims of baseless speculation and false accusations," Torricella said.

The preliminary report does not disclose the contents of the written flight plan for the Gol Airlines flight and, while mentioning that there were no communication problems between air traffic control and the Gol Airlines flight, it does not release any details regarding those communications, including whether air traffic control undertook any efforts to instruct the Gol Airlines flight to deviate course or altitude to avoid the impending collision.

Colonel Da Silva Ferreira emphasized that ExcelAire’s pilots were "very cooperative" and provided full statements within days of the accident. He confirmed that their presence in Brazil is not related to the ongoing investigation. In addition to their statements to the safety investigators, ExcelAire’s pilots also provided full statements to military authorities and to police officials in Mato Grosso within days of the accident.

"Joe and Jan have done everything asked of them and each gave three lengthy statements within roughly the first 72 hours after the accident. They have since been held in Brazil for almost seven weeks without just cause. Enough is enough. It is time that they be permitted to return home to their families," Torricella stated.

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