Lawyer: Judge issues “stinging indictment” of Brazilian ATC

Washington DC
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A Brazilian judge on 19 May called for a criminal investigation into how Brazil's military-based air navigation service provider runs that country's air traffic control system.

The action comes at the conclusion of the sentencing phase of pilots and controllers involved in the 2006 midair collision of a Gol 737-800 and an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet over the Amazon. The damaged Legacy was able to land nearby with no injuries to passengers or crew, however all 154 passengers and crew on the 737 were killed.

The two Legacy pilots were sentenced by the judge on 16 May to 4 years and 4 months of community service, a result the men are appealing.

On 19 May, the same judge convicted the air traffic controller on console duty at the time of the accident of criminal negligence for mismanaging communications, sentencing him to 3 years and 4 months of community service, says Joel Weiss, the US-based attorney for the Legacy pilots.

However a second controller, who Weiss says was handling the flight earlier and was viewed by the Brazilian prosecutors as the "dominant cause of the accident", was acquitted by the judge because he could not find him reckless according to the standards to which he was trained.

"The judge pointed out that [the controller] was wildly unqualified to serve as an air traffic controller and didn't belong in the vicinity of a console," says Weiss. "He had failed the controller's exam four times and was seemingly pushed through because they needed to fill a seat."

The judge instead called on a federal prosecutor to launch a criminal investigation into the air navigation services provider DECEA, the government organization under the ministry of defence and the Brazilian air force, for putting the controller in charge.

"It's a stinging indictment of Brazil's air traffic control system," says Weiss. "We're hoping the federal prosecutors take the judge seriously, to finally focus blame where it should be focused."