Several international aviation organizations including the Flight Safety Foundation and the National Business Aviation Association criticized the Brazilian justice decision to arraign the American pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino.
They call the Brazilian action a dangerous precedent that will not contribute to avoid other accidents in the future. Dan Hubbard, a spokesman for the National Business Aviation Association told reporters: "We will keep our opposition to any criminal charge in this case and we regret the Justice’s decision."
On Friday, December 8, Lepore and Paladino, after a 6-hour interrogatory, in São Paulo’s Federal Police headquarters, in which they remained silent, were charged with "culpably exposing to danger a vessel or aircraft," a crime contemplated in article 261 of Brazil’s Penal Code.
The leaders of several aviation organizations tried to avoid till the last minute that the arraignment occurred. They sent a joint letter to the Brazilian justice commending the Court decision to release the Americans and "renewing a call that criminal inquiries not be made a part of investigations into any party involved in the accident."
The pilots had their passports confiscated and were held in virtual house arrest in a Rio hotel since the Legacy executive jet they were piloting collided with a Boeing 737 killing all 154 people aboard on September 29.
"Since September 29, the international community has been calling for a through investigation into this tragic accident," the letter reads and continues:
"In order to fully understand the causes behind any accident, investigators must carefully examine all evidence, including the information that is collected from interviews with those operators most directly involved. Collection of crucial data must be free from any interference by the penal system, as fear of prosecution and/or imprisonment will only deter witnesses who may be willing to assist in the investigation.
"… A criminal inquiry has no place in the investigation of any party’s role in this accident. We are pleased that your criminal authority is working to release the pilots involved in the accident, and we implore you to also set aside any criminal component in your investigation of the involvement of air traffic controllers or other parties in the events of September 29."
The letter concluded saying: "We understand the need for a grieving public to want to see justice served, and we do not seek to put our colleagues above the law. However, criminal investigations into aviation accidents like the one on September 29 are at odds with efforts to discover root causes of accidents and avoid future mistakes."
The letter was signed by the leaders of the Flight Safety Foundation, the National Business Aviation Association, the International Federation of Air Traffic Controllers’ Associations, the Civil Air Navigation Services Organization and the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations.
"The decision to accuse Joe and Jan of criminal wrongdoing is irresponsible in the face of overwhelming evidence that exonerates them," said Robert Torricella, a Miami-based lawyer for ExcelAire, the employer of the two American pilots.
"The Brazilian Federal Police is telling the world that pilots who fly in Brazil can be accused of crimes for doing nothing more than complying with applicable aviation regulations and following air traffic control directives. This is an alarming precedent for the international aviation community."
"We had hoped that the police investigation would be conducted with integrity and transparency, and that they would have listened to the pilots’ testimony before making baseless accusations," said José Carlos Dias, Brazilian counsel for the pilots.
"We are disappointed that the police investigator could not rise above the politics of the matter and let the facts determine its actions."
ExcelAire Press Release:
The ExcelAire family welcomes home its pilots, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, at their arrival by private jet at Long Island-MacArthur airport today. The pilots were detained in Brazil following the September 29, 2006 mid-air collision between a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 and an Embraer Legacy 600 jet.
"We are thrilled to have Joe and Jan back home after a long and difficult detainment in Brazil, and this homecoming is a very special day for all of us at ExcelAire," said Bob Sherry, ExcelAire’s President and CEO. "We have been working tirelessly since the accident to bring them home, and are glad that Joe and Jan can be home with their families for the holidays, where they belong."
"We would like to thank all those people here in the U.S., Brazil and around the world that have helped so much and provided so much support to Joe and Jan during this trying time," said Mr. Sherry.
"We’d also like to thank the aviation industry associations, politicians and labor unions that have been so dedicated to this cause, and to advocating for the fair treatment of the accident investigations in Brazil."
He added, "We continue to extend our sympathies and prayers to the families and friends that lost loved ones in this tragic accident."