- December 11, 2008, 10:29 AM
On Monday, Brazilian Federal Court judge Murilo Mendes cleared U.S. pilots Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino of negligence charges related to the September 2006 midair between a Gol Boeing 737-800 and the Embraer Legacy 600 the pair were ferrying on its delivery flight to their employer, ExcelAire of Long Island. The judge also cleared two assistant air traffic controllers, who had already been returned to active duty, of all charges in the accident. Federal criminal charges remain against two other controllers, and Mendes has asked that charges be considered against a fifth. All five controllers, who are Air Force sergeants in Brazil’s military-controlled ATC system, continue to face parallel criminal charges in Brazil’s independent military court system. The American pilots were indicted under article 261 of the Brazilian criminal code, “placing aviation in risk.” These remaining charges could yield penalties of up to six years; however, under Brazilian law that would mean not prison but lesser confinement such as a halfway house. Under treaties with the U.S., if convicted the pilots would serve equivalent or less restrictive penalties, which in practice would be community service.