Embassy Cables Show Tepid Support for Legacy Pilots

 - December 23, 2010, 9:25 AM

Diplomatic cables made public through Wikileaks show that official U.S. support for the American pilots of the ExcelAire Legacy involved in the 2006 Amazon midair was limited and ineffective. At the time, American Ambassador Clifford Sobel warned that a Brazilian congressional inquiry might become “a whitewash that blames American pilots for last September’s midair collision between an Embraer Legacy jet and Gol flight 1907.” Initial media coverage vilified the Legacy pilots as cowboys whose dangerous flying led to the accident; this opinion, said Sobel, later underwent a “sea change” that shifted blame to long-standing and uncorrected shortcomings of the military-controlled ATC system. The cables contained warnings from diplomats that excessive pressure might produce a backlash, which limited efforts to a “courtesy call” on the Brazilian Embassy in Washington, and the enlistment of a Brazilian diplomat to orally convey “our concern” to Federal appeals judges to release the pilots, which a higher court did after they were detained in the country for more than two months. Absent from the cables is any mention of the spirited defense of the pilots by travel columnist Joe Sharkey, who had been aboard the Legacy.