US pilots' convictions upheld by court in Brazil


A child watches a taxiing Malaysia Airlines Boeing 737-400 aircraft from the observation deck of the Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Sepang.


Tengku Bahar

SÃO PAULO, Brazil – A federal court in Brazil on Monday upheld the conviction of two US pilots for their role in the 2006 midair collision over the Amazon that killed 154 people.

The three-judge panel upheld a lower court ruling from last year that Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, who were flying a corporate jet involved in the crash, were negligent for not checking that anti-collision equipment and a device that would have alerted controllers to their location were functioning properly, reported the Associated Press. The Brazilian federal court changed a lower-court decision that had reduced each pilot's four-year, four-month prison sentence to community service in the United States. The pilots instead will serve three years and one month in the United States under an "open" system allowed by Brazil law.

According to Reuters, the crash was Brazil's worst airline disaster, until a TAM Airbus A320 overran the runway and crashed at São Paulo's Congonhas airport the following year, killing 199. The 2006 accident involved a Boeing 737 and a Legacy corporate jet. The collision snapped off 23 feet of the 737's left wing, causing it to spiral out of control and break up before crashing in the Amazon jungle. The Legacy landed safely with only minor damage.

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Lepore and Paladino both deny any wrongdoing and say all equipment was turned on during the flight, noted the AP. The two pilots were in the US for the verdict and haven't been back to South America since they were allowed to leave Brazil two months after the collision.

Air traffic controller Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos was also sentenced in 2010 to 14 months in jail for failing to take action when he noticed the corporate jet's anti-collision system had been turned off.