American pilots of an Embraer Legacy business jet  who survived a mid-air collision in Brazil last September have been branded as “criminals” by a politician in the early stages of parliamentary and police inquiries into the accident.

The comments were made by Eduardo Cunha, vice-president of the senate inquiry into the collision between the ExcelAire Legacy and a Gol Boeing 737. Giving evidence to the parallel parliamentary inquiry, Brazil’s leading police investigator Roberto Sayão, recommended that the two ExcelAire pilots should be indicted for involuntary manslaughter. He had previously voiced that opinion publicly, but before the house he added that there was sufficient evidence to indict three air traffic controllers from the Brasília area control centre.

Sayão stressed, however, that the Polícia Federal  cannot recommend charges against the controllers since they are military personnel, so their case would have to be addressed under military law. All 154 people on the 737 were killed, but the seven people on the damaged Legacy survived.

Meanwhile, the parallel senate inquiry, referred to locally as CPI do Apagão Aéreo (air blackout investigation)  began on 17 May. It has first to set up its terms of reference, but these are expected to cover the mid-air collision itself; the air transport infrastructure’s current state; and alleged corruption in Brazil’s airport administration authority.

Cunha has stated that the Embraer Legacy pilots, Americans Joe Lapore and Jan Paladino, must come to Brazil to testify, although a sworn affidavit or deposition to an appointed committee are normally considered acceptable instruments for witnesses living abroad. Cunha said that Brazil’s justice ministry may be called upon to initiate arrest proceedings against both pilots, and insisted: “They are the guilty party in the accident. They must come to Brazil. I think it is absurd that we should go the USA to hear their testimony since their status has changed to that of criminals

Legacy in Gol incident

The International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations says it was "outraged" to learn of the recommendation to prosecute the Legacy pilots. The organisation is calling on the Brazilian justice ministry to "correct the premature action" of the police by "waiting until the technical findings of the investigation are reported".