ExcelAire pilots to testify in U.S.

 - March 31, 2008, 9:06 AM

The two U.S. pilots–Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino–involved in a fatal midair between an ExcelAire Legacy 600 and a Gol Airlines Boeing 737-800 above the Amazon jungle in September 2006 will be allowed to testify in a criminal trial from the U.S.

Theo Dias, the pilots’ criminal lawyer in Brazil, said that the pilots always believed they had the right to testify in the U.S. based on a Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty between Brazil and the U.S. “This is what we wanted,” he added.

Federal court judge Murilo Mendes overturned his previous decision based on new case law from the Federal Supreme Court, the highest Brazilian court, which decided that two North American flight attendants, in similar circumstances, would be allowed to testify in their own country. “There isn’t a lot of case law regarding this treaty, which is relatively recent, so in our view this is the best interpretation,” he said.

Although Dias hasn’t spoken to the two pilots, he said that they have always wanted to be able to present their case. The two pilots already showed their willingness to help investigators by speaking to Cenipa investigators in January for some 20 hours over the course of three days at the NTSB offices in Washington, D.C.

However, the decision irritated some of the victims’ families, who had hoped the pilots would be forced to return to Brazil to participate in criminal proceedings. Leonardo Amarante, legal representative for some of the families, said the decision reinforces the image of the pilots’ impunity, reported news agency Reuters.

According to Dias, a U.S. legal body such as a state attorney will be selected to hear the pilots’ evidence, probably in their home state of New York. However, with the need to translate questionnaires and legal documents and decide which court will hear the proceedings, this process is likely to take a while. “It may take three months or more before the pilots can be heard,” said Dias.