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Old 11-17-2006, 07:06 AM   #15  
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IslandBrazilian officials: Crash investigation will take 10 more months

Newsday Staff Writers

November 16, 2006, 7:52 PM EST

In their first official statement on a Sept. 29 midair collision that killed 154 people, Brazilian officials issued a preliminary report Thursday that fell short of casting blame and said it will take another 10 months to complete the investigation.

"At this moment, any conclusion will be premature," Col. Rufino Antonio da Silva Ferreira, the Brazilian air force official in charge of the investigation, said at a news conference. He added that it is still not possible to say "that one thing caused the accident."

In the meantime, two Long Island pilots whose executive jet survived the impact remain in Brazil after a judge confiscated their passports to ensure their availability for questioning. This week, their attorneys appealed a federal judge's refusal to return the passports.

Under international air safety agreements, the preliminary investigation report is supposed to contain facts not subject to dispute. "The investigators did not blame anybody today," said a Defense Department spokesman, Maj. Adolfo Aleixo da Silva Jr.

The report says the Legacy jet owned by ExcelAire of Ronkonkoma and flown by Joseph Lepore, 42, of Bay Shore, and Jan Paladino, 34, of Westhampton Beach, did not follow its original flight plan, which was already known.

But the pilots said controllers revised the plans by instructing them to fly at 37,000 feet for the entire route. The flight plan had called for a descent to 36,000 and then an ascent to 38,000 before landing. International flight regulations say controller directives overrule flight plans filed before takeoff.

"The investigators are working to discover if the Legacy was supposed to descend or not," da Silva said.

The pilots' lead attorney, Robert Torricella, said controllers did not instruct the Legacy to change altitude once it reached 37,000 feet.

"Under Brazilian, American and international regulations, the flight plan that governs the conduct of a flight is not the written flight plan, but the flight plan cleared by air traffic control," he said.

The crash of Gol airlines Flight 1907 is Brazil's worst air disaster. Warning systems on both planes failed to alert pilots, Ferreira said.

It has been previously reported the transponder on the Legacy that gives the jet's location was not working before the impact.

Da Silva said the black box shows the pilots did not perform aerobatic maneuvers. That would contradict claims of an attorney for victims. "They were flying straight and level the whole time," he said.

Ferreira said neither crew saw the other plane coming. "No one saw anyone," he said. "No one tried evasive action." He said the left wings of the two aircraft struck each other. Then the Boeing nose-dived.

A pilots' federation called Thursday for the release of Lepore and Paladino. "Thus far, only contradictory facts, rumor and unsupported allegations have been forthcoming from Brazilian government officials," said the International Federation of Air Line Pilots' Associations.

There is a separate criminal investigation under way by the federal police.

This story was supplemented with an Associated Press report.
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