U.S. Pilots Receive Suspended Sentences for 2006 Brazil Mid-Air Collision
May 19, 2011 — The pilots of an Embraer Legacy jet that collided with a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 at 37,000 feet over Brazil in 2006 have been convicted of negligence by a Brazilian court for failing to adequately check that their transponder was operating. Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino, who testified in the trial via video link from the U.S., were sentenced to four years in prison, but the terms were suspended by Federal Judge Merilo Mendes, who ordered them to perform community service in the U.S. The judge also suspended their pilot certificates, but it is not known if that part of the ruling can be enforced.
The two pilots had taken delivery of the new aircraft and were bound for New York when the accident occurred. The Embraer’s wing clipped the tail of the 737, which crashed with no survivors; Lapore and Paladino were able to limp the Embraer to a nearby military base. While the NTSB laid most of the blame on the Brazilian controllers, the event caused intense focus and criticism on the Brazilian air traffic control system amongst Brazilians. The U.S. pilots also received more of the blame in a Brazilian investigation. According to reports, lawyers for the pilots will appeal the ruling. Lawyers for the families of the 737 crash victims are also expected to appeal to ask the judge for a tougher sentence.
Several Brazilian air traffic controllers were put on trial for their roles in the accident; one was convicted and is serving 14-month sentence.