Brazilian Federal court finds American pilots guilty in collision that killed 154

Débora Zampier, Agencia Brasil

Brasilia – On September 26, 2006, an executive jet manufactured by the Brazilian aerospace company, Embraer, left São Paulo on a flight to the United States where it was to be delivered to its new owners. The jet, a Legacy 600, was piloted by two Americans, Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino.

Around 5:00 pm, on a clear day, somewhere over the state of Mato Grosso, the Legacy and a commercial airliner, a Boeing 737, brushed past each other. The Legacy was slightly damaged and managed to land. The Boeing, belonging to Gol Airlines, flight 1907 from Manaus to Brasilia, crashed in a remote region known as the Serra do Cachimbo killing all 154 people aboard.

Lepore and Paladino were actually taken into custody in Brazil immediately following the accident. They were later released on the understanding that they could face criminal charges. Since the accident, many Brazilian authorities and relatives of the victims have clamored for a trial of the American pilots.

A trial has taken place (part of it by teleconference with the pilots testifying in the United States). Yesterday, a federal judge in the municipality of Sinop (population 106,000), in the state of Mato Grosso (near where the Boeing crashed), found Lepore and Paladino guilty of causing the accident and gave the two American pilots a limited-custodial sentence (“pena em regime semiaberto” – that is, the prisoner must spend the night in jail but can leave during the day) for a period of four years and four months.

In his sentence, the judge, Murilo Mendes, made it clear that the pilots were responsible for the accident. However, he then converted the sentence into community service in the United States and ordered the suspension of their pilot’s licenses during the period of the sentence.

The judge’s ruling can be appealed to a higher court and, as a matter of fact, the Mato Grosso state office of government attorneys (“Ministério Público Federal em Mato Grosso – MPF-MT”), immediately announced that they will file an appeal seeking a stiffer penalty for the pilots .

The Association of Relatives and Friends of the Victims of Flight 1907 released a note saying the sentence by judge Mendes left them in a state of “…consternation and anger.” A lawyer for the association declared the relatives and friends wanted a maximum sentence of imprisonment. He also criticized the alternative sentence.

“Although the time to be served is long, the fact that it will be served doing community services in their country (the US) means it amounts to practically nothing, it is nil,” the lawyer said.

Allen Bennett – translator/editor The News in English

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