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Brazil blames Gol crash on US pilots, controllers
Wed Dec 10, 2008 7:14pm EST
By Raymond Colitt and Fernando Exman
BRASILIA, Dec 10 (Reuters) - A Brazilian air force report on Wednesday blamed two U.S. pilots, traffic controllers and faulty communications for a mid-air collision that downed a commercial airliner in 2006 killing all 154 passengers.
The Boeing 737 operated by Gol Linhas Aereas (GOLL4.SA: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) (GOL.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz) plummeted from 37,000 feet (11,300 metres) after a Legacy corporate jet operated by Long Island-based ExcelAire clipped its wings in mid-air.
The Legacy, manufactured by Brazilian maker Embraer (EMBR3.SA: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz)(ERJ.N: Quote, Profile, Research, Stock Buzz), landed safely with minor damage.
The report by the air force accident investigation unit Cenipa, said multiple failures caused the disaster.
Air traffic controllers gave the Legacy pilots vague instructions on when to change their altitude and failed to alert them when they continued at the wrong height.
They also did not alert the pilots of a change in radio frequency. Only one of five radio frequencies used in the region was working.
The Legacy's pilots were poorly prepared, had no experience flying in Brazil and had never previously flown together. They inadvertently turned off the Legacy's transponder, a security device that warns of an approaching aircraft, and did not turn it back on until after the accident.
"No accident happens because of a single cause," said Brigadier Jorge Kersul Filho, head of Cenipa.
The collision snapped off 7 meters (yards) of the 737's left wing, causing it to spiral out of control and break up before crashing into the Amazon jungle.
A representative of victims' relatives said they would request the public prosecutor to press charges against the U.S. pilots for homicide with intent.
A federal judge in Mato Grosso state, where the accident happened, absolved the pilots on Tuesday of negligence in trying to communicate with the control tower. They still face charges of putting aviation safety at risk by presenting a faulty flight plan and deactivating the transponder.
Joel Weiss, a lawyer for the pilots, said individual air traffic controllers and flaws built in Brazil's air traffic control system caused the accident.
ExcelAire Vice President David Rimmer, told Reuters the report "is designed to blame the pilots. It's full of bias."
ExcelAire also denied that the pilots were poorly prepared or had never flown together and said a separate report published on Wednesday by the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board reached a different conclusion.
Local investigators last month blamed government agencies, pilot error and company policy for a TAM airliner crash that killed 199 in 2007.
The two major accidents within a year have triggered efforts to reform Brazil's air traffic control system, which is overseen by the military. (Additional reporting by Fernando Exman, editing by Alan Elsner)