Prosecutor Charges Brazilian as Main Culprit of Brazil’s Worst Air Accident

Part of fallen Gol's Boeing 737 fuselage in Brazil's Amazon forest Brazilian federal prosecutor Tiago Lemos de Andrade thinks he knows who are responsible for  Brazil's worst air accident ever, on September 29, over the Amazon jungle, when 154 people aboard a Gol airline's Boeing 737 fell to their death after colliding with a Legacy executive jet piloted by two Americans. 

This Friday, May 25, he has asked a federal judge in the state of Mato Grosso, where the Boeing fell, to indict six people: four Brazilian flight controllers and the two American pilots. Andrade says that these six men's imprudence and negligence are the reason for the collision between the two planes.

The military justice prosecutor, Giovanni Rattacaso has announced that the whole case will be taken care by the civilian justice. For some time it was believed that the flight controllers, the great majority of which are military men, would be dealt with by the Brazilian Air Force.

Among those being formally charged is Air Force sergeant Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos, a flight controller from Cindacta 1, Brasí­lia's flight control center. Santos and everybody else should be indicted for "willful crime of assault against aircrafts security." In Santos case there are aggravating circumstances though.

He is accused by the prosecution of exposing the flight to danger "knowingly and in a voluntary manner." Santos is regarded as the main culprit for the accident. According to the prosecution, the flight controller handed over the Legacy's flight plan to the other controllers, without telling them the aircraft altitude should be changed, which contributed to the collision.

While the pilots and three controllers, had their crime characterized as culpable negligence, Santos crime was characterized as malicious. "I understood that Jomarcelo's conduct was willful, that it was conscientious and voluntary. He knew very well that he was putting at risk the aircraft," said the prosecutor.

The three other Air Force sergeants who were working at Cindacta 1 at the time of the accident and are also being charged are Lucivaldo Tibúrcio de Alencar, Leandro José Santos de Barros and Felipe Santos dos Reis. American pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino complete the list.

The prosecutor says that he is going to ask the judge that the American pilots be heard in Sinop, in Mato Grosso State, according to the bilateral cooperation treaty between Brazil and the US.

The prosecution also says that it concluded that Lepore and Paladino turned off the Legacy's transponder, something that was noticed only after the accident. The American pilots are also accused of not following the flight plan. 

Federal Judge Murilo Mendes, from Sinop in the state of Mato Grosso, should announce next week if he will accept or not the indictment request. It's expected that he will say yes based on the federal police's inquiry.

Before returning to the United States, in December 8, Lepore and Paladino had already been arraigned by the Federal police for "exposing to danger vessel or aircraft," even though authorities concluded at the time that they had not done that intentionally.

At that time the Federal Police investigation was still going on. Police chief Renato Sayão only concluded his effort on May 7. In the 41-page final report, however, Sayão maintains that Lepore and Paladino should be blamed for the planes collision. If convicted of the crime, both pilots might get from four to eight years in jail.

Theodomiro Dias Neto, the criminologist who heads the two pilots' defense team reacted indignantly to the prosecutor's announcement:  "It's nonsense that the press knows about this beforehand," he said.  "Anyway, it seems premature to me to file charges without knowing the result of the technical investigation being done by the Aviation Accidents Investigation and Prevention Center (Cenipa).

"The pilots reiterate the purpose of demonstrating that they acted with professionalism, in conformity with the international rules of aviation, and they believe in the judicial recognition of their innocence."

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