Judge Refuses To Hear Brazil Midair Crash Witnesses

 - August 19, 2010, 10:45 AM

The criminal trial of the American pilots of the Legacy jet that collided with a Boeing 737 over the Amazon in 2006 moved forward this month when the judge decided he has no need to hear seven defense witnesses. Mato Grosso federal court judge Fábio Henrique Rodrigues de Moraes Fiorenzage ruled that the witnesses' testimony was dispensable because they were either passengers on the Legacy who lacked technical knowledge or aviation specialists who did not witness the episode, according to Joel Weiss, attorney for the Legacy's pilots Joe Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino. Lepore and Paladino were at 37,000 feet when the Legacy and the 737 operating Gol Flight 1907 collided. Both aircraft were flying in accordance with ATC clearances. Four air traffic controllers are also on trial. The Legacy's transponder was turned off for close to an hour before the collision. 

The judge rejected the expert witnesses put forth by the defense, instead asking the Brazilian Air Force to supply someone from among its personnel to explain the ATC system. Weiss told AIN that the government’s witness “was hired by the personal injury lawyer who is representing the widow of the decedent, and separately that lawyer has managed to have himself appointed as an assistant prosecutor in the case. The net effect of this is the government’s expert is being paid by a civil litigant trying to get a money recovery from this accident, a situation that would never occur in the U.S. or in any refined system of justice. The absurdity of the judge’s decision is obvious, that is that the government’s paid expert can testify although he didn’t witness any facts but the defense’s experts can’t. It is proper for both sides to be able to call experts.” Weiss is preparing a writ to appeal the judge”s decision. “We’re confident that a responsible appellate court will reverse this illogical decision,” he said.

In Brazil, the air force is responsible for both ATC and for aviation accident investigations. Christoph Gilgen, a Swiss ATC expert called in the controllers’ defense, told AIN, “If the judge hears outside experts, he may be able to identify causes and facts that might have been overlooked so far by the official investigations.”

The damaged Legacy 600 has sat on the ground at Cachimbo Air Base in Brazil since the accident, held there by a lien and the need for at least a new wing, tail repairs and replacement avionics. In recent months United States Aircraft Insurance Group and Cloudscape have filed requests with the same court for the aircraft”s release.