The Disaster That is Brazil

Accidents/Incidents, Gol

I’m not sure how many of you are following the aviation scene in Brazil these days, but there have been plenty of developments related to the Gol 737 crash that are enough to frighten anyone.

For those who don’t remember, back on September 29, a Embraer business jet clipped a Gol 737 at 37,000 ft over the Amazon. The Gol aircraft crashed into the jungle while the Embraer jet was able to land safely. On that Embraer jet was New York Times journalist Joe Sharkey, who has been obviously covering this story very carefully.

Initially, the government suggested that the Embraer was doing acrobatic moves in the sky and that its reckless behavior was responsible for the accident. In fact, they went so far as to detain the American pilots of the Embraer in the country until the investigation was complete.

As more and more details come out, this account appears to be false, and the complete violation of civil liberties is frightening. The pilots have now been detained for 2 months at a hotel in Rio. They have been able to interact with family, but that is all.

In the meantime, more evidence has come out pointing to air traffic control, not aerobatics, as a major problem here. According to this article by Sharkey, the Embraer pilots has initially filed for an altitude of 36,000 ft but air traffic control has them flying at 37,000 ft instead. Meanwhile, the Gol aircraft had filed to fly at 41,000 ft, but they were being held at 37,000 ft as well. Tapes on the Embraer show that the pilots tried to contact air traffic control 19 times and they were unsuccessful each time.

After the crash, the air traffic controllers in Brazil went into a frenzy protesting the dangerous working conditions and problematic systems in use. The unrest went far enough that the head of the country’s air traffic control was recently reassigned.

Now, though it appears air traffic control was a major problem in this accident, it clearly was not the only one. As in all accidents, a trail of problems led up to the final outcome. For example, had the traffic collision avoidance system (TCAS) functioned and been followed correctly, the pilots could have avoided each other even despite the air traffic control failures.

That being said, perhaps the most disturbing thing here is how the pilots have been treated. There is little reason to believe at this point that the pilots committed a crime. In fact, they have not been charged at all in this mess. They are simply being held against their will in defiance of Brazilian law. If that’s not enough to disturb anyone, then how about this . . . according to Joe Sharkey’s blog, the general response in the country can be summed up as “Payback for Guantanamo! Serves them right for being Americans.”

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