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Brazil Blames U.S. Pilots In Gol Crash

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The Brazilian Air Force will release a report next week blaming U.S. pilots who operated a Legacy jet that collided in mid-air with a Brazilian Gol commercial airliner for causing Brazil’s second-worst air disaster, a local paper said on Saturday.

O Estado de S. Paulo daily, which had access to details of the report, said pilot error in the Embraer Legacy jet, operated by Long Island-based ExcelAire, was the “central point in a chain of errors” that caused the Gol plane to crash in the jungle killing 154 on board in 2006.

David Rimmer, executive vice president of ExcelAire, said later on Saturday that the newspaper’s portrayal of a 300-page report to be released on Wednesday was “a gross misrepresentation” of the Air Force’s investigation.

The newspaper said the report focused blame on one of the U.S. pilots who “inadvertently turned off” the Legacy’s transponder, which would have prevented the Legacy’s winglet from slashing through the larger Gol airliner, sending it hurtling 37,000 feet to the jungle floor.

The Legacy managed an emergency landing with minor damage on a remote airstrip.

The paper said the report also faulted local air traffic control, which failed to properly advise the Legacy jet on its cruising altitudes, and also said there was miscommunication from one controller to another during a shift change about the Legacy’s altitude and a failure to communicate between control and the Legacy pilots.

“The transponder is a distraction from the true cause of the accident, which is air traffic control put two airplanes on a collision course for about an hour,” Rimmer said. “We have no proof of how the transponder was turned off and no evidence to suggest it was inadvertently turned off by the pilots.”

He said the Brazilian Air Force in its investigation of its own management of air traffic control during the time of the accident did not fully explore the transponder failure but “relied on theories rather than conducting in-depth testing of equipment.”

The report on the Gol disaster comes a few weeks after local investigators blamed government agencies, pilot error and company policy for a TAM airliner crash that killed 199 in 2007. ID:nN15461337

The occurrence of two major airline accidents within a year has triggered efforts to reform Brazil’s military air traffic control system that are still underway.

Rimmer said by phone that part of the problem with the Brazilian Air Force’s investigation was the threat of criminal prosecution, especially of the air traffic controllers.

“This tends to hamper information-gathering, which could help us avoid similar disasters in the future,” he said.

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