American Pilots Detained in Brazil Don’t Appreciate Presidential Suite

Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, the American pilots of the Legacy executive jet, which collided on September 29 with Gol’s Boeing 737 over the Brazilian Amazon resulting in the death of all 154 people aboard, may be housed in the presidential suite of a five-star hotel in the glamorous beach of Copacabana, but they don’t seem even for a second to be enjoying the compulsory vacation courtesy of the Brazilian authorities.

Lepore and Paladino have had their American passport confiscated and they have been forced to stay confined in Rio’s JW Marriott hotel.

The pilots have been spending most of their time, according to hotel workers, locked inside their room watching TV, surfing the Internet  and talking to friends and relatives in the Net or the telephone.

While the Avenida Atlântica hotel, among the best 15 hotels in Latin America according to Conde Nest,  offers breathtaking views of the Sugar Loaf and the Corcovado and Copacabana beach is just across de street from their room, the Yankees keep their curtains closed.

Although the Marriott also has several restaurants, including one with Japanese cuisine, as well as a swimming pool, sauna and a fitness center, the two pilots seem to be enjoying none of that.

Their employer, New-York-based ExcelAire, the air-taxi company that bought the Legacy involved in the accident, is picking up the tab. The bill has already surpassed US$ 115,000 with the hotel charging a US$ 2,000 daily rate. Food, laundry and other expenses are all extra. The Brazilian contribution: they have been kept on a 24-hour watch.

For Theo Dias, the pilot’s lawyer, they are entirely justified in looking for privacy. And as he told Brazilian reporters: "Everybody is talking a lot about the trauma air traffic controllers are going through, but the same is happening to the pilots. And in their case they are in a foreign country, far from their families and insecure in regard to their future."

The American pilots’ confinement in a Rio luxurious hotel has lasted now for almost two months. Both had their passports seized by Brazil’s Federal Police, on October 3, while they were being undergoing clinical exams at the Brazilian Air Force’s Airspace Medicine Center, in Rio. 

The wives of both pilots came for a visit on October 7. Ellen Lepore, 41, and Melissa Paladin, 33, from New York, arrived in an American Airlines flight and went directly to the JW Marriott without talking to reporters. But they have returned to their own jobs and family in the US soon after the visit.


Several court filings by their lawyer haven’t convinced the Brazilian justice to let them go. On Friday, November 23, the First Region’s Regional Office of the Republic’s Attorney General issued the opinion that the Federal Justice in Sinop, state of Mato Grosso, has the right to keep holding the two foreign pilots.

Dias, last week, had filed in court a request for a habeas corpus arguing that investigations on the accident would take at least 10 more and that it wouldn’t be fair to keep his clients detained for all this time.

In justifying the denial the Federal Public Attorney Office wrote: "The excessive time needed to conclude the investigations doesn’t justify by itself a habeas corpus. Such excess should be purposeless or unjustified, which is not the case of the judicial proceedings in view of the complexity of technical prove gathering."

In the Marriott’s top floor, the 17th, where Lepore and Paladino are staying, security guards in the corridor maintain an around-the-clock vigil to prevent the presence of any stranger. A black cloth covers a window to the corridor in a way that people cannot see from outside what’s going on at that floor.

In their classically-decorated 970-sq-feet suite the pilots have two living rooms, two bedrooms, two bathrooms and a kitchen. The place is reserved under their name until December 15.

Meanwhile, Brazilian Defense Minister, Waldir Pires, who has taken center stage in the whole affair of the planes collision and its aftermath, a chaotic situation the airports, continues issuing almost daily declarations.

This Saturday, November 25, Pires denied that the ousting of lieutenant-brigadier Paulo Roberto Cardoso Vilarinho from the Decea (Air Space Control Department) had anything to do with the current crisis in the aviation sector in Brazil.

"The leadership change," he told reporters in São Paulo, "is a routine measure." Vilarinho who had been clashing with the minister was until Friday, Brazil’s air space honcho. Pires once again denied that Brazil has blind spots in its communication network.

"The information I have," he said, "is that these black holes don’t exist. I am not an expert, but the Air Force has these data. If the holes existed I’m sure I would have been informed. This is my expectation at least."

The defense minister also said that the cases of near-accidents in the Brazilian air space (there were 796 confirmed near-collision cases from January 1998 to July 2006) are common all over the world and bring to danger to the Brazilian skies: "They represent no danger at all. By the way, our numbers in these near-accidents are below those from the United States."


  • Show Comments (19)

  • andy murphy

    Ms.Dette,vc tem todas razÀƒµes.A liberdade destes homens foram confiscada,junto com os passaportes.Gostei de teu comentÀƒ¡rio.Obrigado.

  • andy murphy

    You are right Stephen.The pilots are entitled to have their own privacy.while being detained in Brazil.I also agree that Pires is out to lunch as well as out of faculty. If u have been keeping track of the comments, you would have noticed that there is a guy by name marcelo, who talks lots of sense.He also explains why Pires is upset with the Brazilian Miltary (all the wings).

    But we have to acknowledge that there is something common between the U.S. and Brazil. U.S. had a defense minister that got us into trouble for the past 6 years until he was fired. Brazil has also a senile defense minister and I dont think that the honorable President of Brazil is going to put up with eternally.

    Marcelo,any comments?

  • jc

    “Chosed” the place???
    1) Chosed the place
    2) Paid the Bill ”

    Hey À¢€œch. cÀ¢€Â I know you are a man of a few (new) words…À¢€ÂchosedÀ¢€Â ???
    Although a tough one to conjugateÀ¢€¦it matches everything you say!!!

  • Stephen

    I wish the goverment had put them in my hotel..on the side of a mountain, in the jungle … overlooking a pristine beach, high speed internet, great security, the only way in is past the rottwielers and from the back the deadly snakes are always looking for intruders.Complete privacy, the media would have to be at least 1500 mts away and with no good foto op’s either.

  • ch.c.

    2 More… Brazilian Lies !
    From ALL the previous news details, it was clear that the Brazilian Government :
    1) Chosed the place
    2) Paid the Bill

    Obviously they did not say the truth ….. JUST ONCE MORE AND AS USUAL !

  • Dette

    To Andy Murphy
    You understand the power of the written word. Language differences make this situation more difficult. Thank you as well. Paz.

  • Simpleton

    I only said this one is not five star. Nobody I know has liked this one. The big name big box down ave atlantica towards Help is not alway better nor does it seem safer. A friend of ours went to inquire for work in the food service department there once and got pushed down the stairs and robbed on her way out. Many men with very hansdsome uniforms standing around in the lobby and outside as well but nobody helped get her up off the floor much less saw or chased down the bandido that took off with her purse with over one months rent money inside. On the beach at 9:30 / 10am half way between these two 5 stars we encountered a dead Portugues student – glad we slept late that day. Of the locals, nobody sees anything. That’s the way it is here. I’ve met some people who don’t / won’t leave their hotels – for them it is probably a wise decision. To other’s I’ve offer recommendations on where / when not to go or at least stuck around and let them know when they had had enough and better be returning to thier safety. For these pilots, general sight seeing, even in day time, is probably out of the question. Even the good souls I kown who live or work on the beach and sidewalks would likely move away quickly if they saw these guys coming (and not out of the usual fear and mistrust of the PF, CP, GM,

    As far as making them less visible, I think this is not possible. Maybe I can find a family living on R$300 in a month sent by the father of the children from his far away work that would be willing to put them up and treat them with unbelievable care and respect. No swimming pool to offer but plenty of fresh air, sunshine and family life around to substitute in for what they are missing in their luxurious prison.

  • Dette

    Lost in Translation
    The headline would be more correct if it said “The American pilots detained in Brazil CAN’T appreciate the best of Rio.” These men are not guests. Their freedom has been taken away. You can surround yourself with all the luxuries this life has to offer. Without freedom it means nothing.

  • Stephen

    Nana, Your right, many hotels chains have ratings for their properties with 3, 4 and 5* ratings, depending on the brand! Motel 6 owned by Accor (which is a leading international hotel chain) is 3* .Their “Formula 1” Brand hotel here in Brazil as well as many other countries is 3*. Accors’ Sofitel in Rio is rated 4* internationally but Accor rates it 5* in Brazil.
    Do have any idea how many different brands and levels of hotels that Marriott International Corp, Hilton and Hyatt own? I doubt it. For an example is there a Conrad International hotel in Brazil? No, but that brand is the 5* international brand for Hilton International. As I said you Brazilians are just dreaming to have the condtions to even take a coffee inside the international branded hotels here. And to close, it costs to be a member of Leading Hotels, which is simply a GDS marketing company with certain standards but does not say that all their members are 5*. Wake up and smell the coffee! The rating is based on many critirea including the ratio of staff to guests, not just services, f&b outlets and other amenities.Who booked the pilots into the Marriott in the 1st place does anyone know?

  • Naná

    HAHAHA! you work in the turism industy

    If you did work in the field, you would know that the 5 stars international chains, such as Marriot Hyatt and Hilton, have a worldwide pattern of quality found since Malaysia to Miami or else they wouldn’t be considered international hotels. So these hotels are classified as first class hostel establishments by international standards not a Brazilian one. You can find Marriot in The Leading Hotels of the Wordl site. If they are detained in a 5 star hotel for more than 50 days is because it looks good! Poor chaps do you want to send them to a 3 star hotel so they will be less visible?

  • Stephen

    Hey Alltheway…. wish I could but live in the south of the country! Keep it stiff Mate!!

  • alltheway

    I agree strongly with all of Stephen’s comments, let’s go to HELP tonite !

  • Stephen

    I am in the hotel and tourism development industry and rarely are presidential suites charged for.They exist for VIP’s, heads of state, upgrades, and other persons that are in need of high security and the guests that are along with the parties that occupy the big suites are charged. Simpleton is right! it is not a 5* property, there are no 5* internationally rated hotels in the country. Brazil has their own rating system, as such as it is! The Brazilians dream to even set foot inside an upscale property and the Brazilian media waiting outside are most likey spending their evenings in HELP!

  • Naná

    Mayday altough they’re not on air!
    Well you, whoever you people are, can ignore but these guys are in hell in the hands of the “American inteligence”.

    Francesco Neves article is an adaptation of yesterday’s issue of O E stado de SÀƒ£o Paulo. The original tittle is Pilots live cloistered in luxury hotel. Next time proofread your work, careless mistakes appear on it. Also your biased look is showing!!

  • Simpleton

    Basically wasn’t worth reading this. Anyhow, this hotel is not 5 star. Even if the justice department pays for C Palace, travel expenses for the pilot’s families, etc., etc., what they are doing is incorrect. (Just a suggestion, doesn’t it make sense that they who hold the passports are responsible to pay up all the bills before the passport can be used to leave the country? Those on business or holiday are expected / required to do this aren’t they?)

    Again, why did the justice department not bring all the ATC controllers and thier management to Rio for a holiday away from home and family? This would obviously have helped them get over thier medical / mental maladyies so they could finally be well enough to be interviewed. Seems the suggestion was made that this is /was what is holding up decisions as to when they will be done questioning the pilots.

  • Nana

    Help!! The 2 American pilots are cloistered!
    It seems that the American pilots are locked in their hotel room and prohibited to open their months unless they wish to be fired by the ExcelAir company as soon they land their asses in America. Joe Sharkey claims in NYT that the Brazilian society is xenophobic and the American pilots would be target by the brazilians in public places. They are even forbidden to use the hotel utilities such as swimming pool, fitness center and sauna while the ultimate customers are the foreign tourists. At this right moment they are locked in their room, they cannot leave the room 24 hours. And its been 53 days! The lawyer said it is the pilots best interest staying inside the room. They are cloistered for God sakes!! Now tell me, is this due to the brazilian public threat who would turn them into human “targets”or a strategy of ExcelAir company? The pilots isolation was published by O Estado de SÀƒ£o Paulo yesterday’s edition and also the Sharkey’s comments in NYT. The brazilian lawyer declared that “the pilots have all the reasons of the world to look for privacy”.Why don’t ExcelAir allow the pilots speak for themselves? Are they enjoying their 5 stars cloisure? Oh yeah lets wait that the American government will be soon activated and the private and the public affairs will be confused and mixed!

  • Costinha

    and after completing
    their sentences, deport’em. That way, they will spend the rest of their miserable lives in the unemployment lines.

  • Costinha

    Put those CIA Spies
    in Jail, that’s weher they belong.

  • Stephen

    Shame on you Neves
    What a very stupid piece to write. And the title:” Don’t Appreciate Presidential Suite “How do you know if they do or don’t like their surroundings? The suite is not relevent to anything. This reads like an advert for the hotel. Of course they don’t go out sightseeing, there is a hostile media waiting outside as well as other people with bad intentions. Pires is out to lunch. When it is proven there are black spots he will say. well I should have been told but wasn’t. He is already starting the Wiggle. Just like Lula says when he is in the kitchen he doesn’t hear what is being said in the living room!! As far as any comments from the hotel workers, this is a no no in the hotel industry and I shall personally complain to the GM and Bill Marriott. in DC. And all of you that agree that the staff have no business making comments about these men should also complain. These men should be left alone and be given their privacy. The rest of the piece is just a rehash !

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