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Pilots Outraged By Release Of Cockpit Recordings

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International regulators must ban the public release of cockpit voice recordings from fatal accidents since their sole purpose is to assist accident investigators, the main international pilots federation said Wednesday.

The London-based International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations also denounced the publication in Vanity Fair magazine of audio clips of an executive jet and a Boeing 737 involved in a deadly collision over Brazil two years ago.

The association said in a statement it was “outraged to learn that once again the cockpit voice recordings of aircraft involved in a fatal accident have been leaked and are being used by a media provider for public entertainment.”

Vanity Fair released the complete audio recordings from the two jets involved in the mid-air crash over Brazil that killed 154 people in its January 2009 issue and on the magazine’s Web site. They were attached to an article about the 2006 accident, “The Devil at 37,000 Feet.”

The site also includes an interview with the author of the article, with snippets of audio from the actual accident sliced in. The pilots of the executive jet are heard saying “What happened?” while sounds from the 737 cockpit are obscured by the din of cockpit alarms.

Vanity Fair spokeswoman Beth Kseniak said in an e-mail that the magazine chose to make the recordings available “because they are newsworthy and serve as documentation to (the) article.”

The cockpit voice recorder is one of two “black box” flight recorders carried by all civilian airliners. It records conversations on the flight deck and any radio instructions pilots receive via their headsets and is intended to help investigators in case of an accident.

Pilot groups do not object to the release of transcripts of the recordings. But they say it is disrespectful to the people in the cockpits and to their families to have their final moments replayed in the media.

Gideon Ewers of the international pilots group described it as morally and ethically wrong to use “actual recordings for anything other than accident investigation.”

“They should never be used … as a means to provide what can only be described as voyeuristic entertainment to the public at large,” he said.

In the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board is legally banned from releasing the actual tapes. In most other countries, however, the legal requirements regarding the level of protection are less strict.

The collision of an Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet, flown by two American pilots, with a Boeing 737 belonging to Brazil’s GOL airlines over the Amazon jungle spotlighted problems within Brazil’s air transport system. The Boeing crashed into the Amazon jungle, killing all onboard, but the business jet landed safely.

On Tuesday, a federal judge in Sao Paolo threw out negligence charges against the two New York pilots accused of contributing to the crash, but refused to dismiss charges similar to involuntary manslaughter. The judge also dismissed some of the charges against four Brazilian air traffic controllers.

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