A three-judge federal panel in Brazil ruled yesterday that two US pilots whohas been detained following the September mid-air collision between their Embraer Legacy 600 and a Gol Linhas Aéreas Boeing 737-800 can have their passports returned within 72h.

Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino have been stranded in Brazil for 68 days following the 29 September crash that killed all 154 passengers and crew aboard the Gol flight. Travel restrictions were placed on the two pilots, employees of business jet charter company ExcelAire, as a result of a federal criminal investigation that was underway in parallel with an accident investigation. The Tribunal Regional Federal da 1 Região based in Brasilia found insufficient reson to retain the pilots.

Judge Candido Ribeiro said US citizens involved in Brazilian court cases are allowed to await court proceedings at home under a reciprocity agreement between the two countries.

Though the focus was initially on the action of the pilots and the onboard anti-collision equipment, deficiencies in air traffic control procedures and equipment have increasingly come under spotlight.

Though the pilots have been cleared to leave the country, criminal charges could still result pending the outcome of investigations. "ExcelAire and the Lepore and Paladino families obviously are very pleased with the court's ruling and are hopeful that it brings Joe and Jan one huge step closer to a long-overdue homecoming," said Robert Torricella, the Miami-based lawyer representing ExcelAire, the owner of the Legacy, and the two pilots.

Read web editor Justin Wastnage's mid-October blog on Brazilian theories on the Gol crash and the treatment of the US pilots

Source: FlightGlobal.com