Air Force Chief Admits Air Controller Might Have Led to Brazil’s Air Tragedy

In a public hearing in the Senate, today, November 21, for the first time, Brazil’s Air Force commander, brigadier Luiz Carlos Bueno, admitted that a mistake of an air traffic controller in BrasÀ­lia might have led to the collision between the Boeing 737 and the Legacy executive jet, which resulted in 154 deaths and the worst air accident in Brazilian history.

Talking to the senators Bueno said that "it might have been a mistake" in a information given by a flight controller who was finishing his work shift on September 29, the day the crash over the Amazon jungle occurred. The brigadier was heard by the a joint session of the Infrastructure, Foreign Relations and National Defense committees.

According to Bueno, the controller who was just leaving his shift told the person who took over for him "a false piece of information he thought was true." He informed his colleague that the Legacy was at an altitude of 36,000 feet when in reality the plane piloted by two Americans was flying at 37,000 feet.

"I think that there was an inducement that the plane was on level 360 (36,000 feet) since the operator passed this information. The new controller had no doubt that the plane was on level 360."

Bueno took pains, however, to say that everything is still being investigated and that whatever he might say was just based on information he had up to this moment and on his own personal experience as an Air Force pilot.

The Air Force commander reiterated that the flight plan for the Legacy was to fly from São José dos Campos, where the plane was bought, to Brasí­lia at 37,000 feet, descending to 36,000 feet in Brasí­lia and then ascending to 38,000 feet on its way to Manaus: "What happens is that when the Legacy passed through Brasí­lia it stopped talking and its transponder stopped transmitting."

The radar, said the brigadier, adjusted the altitude in the flight controller’s monitor to 36,000 feet according to the original flight plan while the plane, in fact, was at  37,000 feet.

"The controller just trusted what the equipment was saying. What we don’t know is why the Legacy pilots communication and the transponder started to work again normally after the collision."

Among those taking part in the Senate’s public hearing were  Defense Minister, Waldir Pires; the president of the National Agency of Civil Aviation, Milton Zuanazzi; the president of Infraero, the Brazilian air authority, brigadier José Carlos Pereira and the president of the Air Companies Union, Marco Antonio Bologna. Jorge Botelho, president of the controllers union, was also present.

Controllers Deposition

The Brazilian Federal police are taking today the depositions of 13 flight controllers who were working when the accident occurred to examine if they can be blamed for the Boeing 737 tragedy. Three of them are from São José dos Campos and the other 10 from Brasí­lia’s air control tower, also known as Cindacta 1.

The depositions are being taken by police chief Ruben José Maleiner from the Investigation and Prevention Coordination of Aeronautical Accidents of the Federal Police.

Police Chief, Renato Sayão, who is in charge of the investigation, is on medical leave due to a disk hernia crisis.

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