Brazil’s Air Tragedy: ‘We’re Gonna Make It,’ Says US Pilot After Collision

After weeks far from the limelight, the deadliest air accident in Brazilian history, which left 154 dead last September 28 over the Amazon jungle, is back in the news. It all restarted with a story by weekly newsmagazine Veja, which published this weekend, a transcript of a dialogue between the two American pilots who were in the Legacy jet that collided with the Boeing 737.

According to Veja, the dialogues, which were captured by the Legacy's black box, show that Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino lied in an interview they gave Folha de S. Paulo. When asked by a Folha reporter why the control tower was not getting the signal from the transponder, Paladino answered:

"We don't know why the signal was not getting there. Where were the controllers, who haven't noticed that?" The new transcript, however, prove, according to the magazine, that the pilots already knew at 4:59 pm, two minutes after the collision with the Boeing, that the TCAS (Traffic Collision Avoidance System) was off.

The TCAS is a device connected to the transponder, which in turn is an instrument that detects the proximity of other aircraft. In the Veja account one of the pilots say, "Man, are you with the TCAS on?" To which the other pilot responds: "The TCAS is off."

Neither Brazil's Defense Ministry nor the Air Force brass are willing to comment on the Veja's revelations. At the Defense, a spokesperson said that they would wait till the end of the investigations (which may take one year of more) that are been conducted by the Air Force and the Federal Police.

The Air Force, on the other hand, adopting a more cautious approach, also kept mum on the magazine's story, but made it clear that the investigations taking place are not trying to uncover any criminal action but only attempting to identify possible errors so that they can be avoided in the future.

The commission investigating the accident intend to interview the American pilots once again. They want to know what might have caused the unplugging of the anticollision device. They seem to be convinced that the device was not turned off on purpose as it was believed at the start of the probe:

"The investigation wants to ask the pilots what they may have done that caused this. They might have touched something that provoked the device being turned off even though they didn't have the intention to do this," someone close to the investigations told reporters asking that he remain anonymous. It hasn't been set a date for a new inquiry though.

The Brazilian Federal Police have already denounced Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino charging them with negligence during the flight. The Federal Police's reasoning is that the American pilots should have total control over their devices since they were flying by instruments.

Both have been charged based on the Penal Code's article 261, which define as crime to expose to danger a vessel or aircraft. The air controllers in charge at Brasí­lia's control tower when the accident occurred are also being investigated.

Here's the dialogue reproduced by Veja. Note that the original was translated into Portuguese and that the version below is a translation from the magazine account back into English:

– What the hell was that?
– It's all right. Just pilot the plane, man.

– Have we lost the winglet?
– Have we?

– We have.
– Where this shit came from?

– All right. We are going down. Declaring an emergency. Sit down.
– (…) Just let me pilot this thing, man, because I think..

– Where this shit came from?
– Did we hit anybody?

– Have you seen that?
– Have you seen anything?

– I thought I saw…
– I looked up.

– What is this?
– Do we still have the wing's tip?

– No.
– What's the damage to the wing?

– It was big… It was big. I am feeling it now…

– Man, do you have the TCAS on?
– Yeah, the TCAS is off.

– It's OK. Just pay attention to the traffic. We are gonna make it, we are gonna make it, we are gonna make it… I know that.


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