Flashback: Legacy 600 Passenger Recalls Midair

 - September 6, 2022, 8:24 AM
AIN November 2006, cover

With AIN Media Group's Aviation International News and its predecessor Aviation Convention News celebrating the company's 50th year of continuous publication this year, AIN’s editorial staff is going back through the archives each month to bring readers some interesting events that were covered over the past half-century.

REWIND: (November, 2006) I write this on October 15, my 60th birthday. I have tried not to be flippant about any aspect of this story. I am increasingly aware that my astonishing luck to be alive today coincided with the horrible fate of 154 people who plunged to their deaths on September 29. That was when seven people aboard a new Embraer Legacy 600, me among them, inexplicably survived a midair collision with a 737-800 at 37,000 feet above the Amazon rainforest.

FAST FORWARD: AIN columnist Joe Sharkey was a passenger onboard what was anticipated to be a routine delivery flight for the brand-new super midsize jet to ExcelAire’s Ronkonoma, New York headquarters, where it would join the company’s charter fleet. In the collision, the Legacy lost its left winglet which sliced into the doomed commercial jetliner, clipping its left wing and tail and causing it to plummet into the jungle below.

The Legacy’s two-man crew, which was initially accused of intentionally turning off its transponder, managed to land the stricken business jet safely at a Brazilian air force base. The pilots were eventually allowed to return to the U.S. two months after the accident, amid parallel investigations by the U.S. NTSB and Brazil’s CENIPA. Their findings differed, with Brazilian authorities concluding the collision resulted from a combination of errors from air traffic controllers and the Legacy’s pilots, while the NTSB ruled the pilots of both airplanes acted properly and pointed to a variety of air traffic control errors.

After a series of remotely conducted hearings, the Legacy’s crew was convicted by Brazilian authorities and given several years of probation, to be served in the U.S., while several controllers, and Air Force personnel, were sentenced by criminal and/or military courts to shorter terms.

The Legacy itself was patched up by a mobile repair team after its nearly four years on the ground in Brazil and finally reached the U.S. in 2010. It was fully refurbished and was sold in 2013 to a Mexican operator. According to JetNet, it remains in service to this day.