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Some charges out against pilots in Brazil crash

A judge has thrown out negligence charges against two American pilots accused of contributing to a plane crash in the Amazon that killed 154 people two years ago.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A Brazilian judge has thrown out negligence charges against two American pilots accused of contributing to the crash of a passenger jet in the Amazon that killed 154 people two years ago, a lawyer for the pilots said Tuesday.

But the federal judge overseeing the case refused to dismiss charges similar to involuntary manslaughter for pilots Joseph Lepore of Bay Shore, New York, and Jan Paladino of Westhampton Beach, New York, according to their lawyer, Joel Weiss.

Judge Murilo Mendes also dismissed some charges lodged against four Brazilian air traffic controllers accused of failing to keep the Embraer Legacy 600 flown by the American pilots from a collision course with the Boeing 737.

The larger Gol jet plunged into the jungle after the two planes collided. It disintegrated on impact on Sept. 29, 2006, killing all aboard were killed. It was Brazil's worst air disaster until a jet crash in 2007 in Sao Paulo killed 199 people.

The smaller plane landed safely.

The dismissal of negligence charges against the American pilots "is to an extent good news," Weiss said in an interview. "The judge is certainly on the right track in reducing the charges. But all the charges against the pilots deserve dismissal."

The case is on track to be tried next year, and the charge equivalent to involuntary manslaughter is punishable by as much as three years in prison.

The dismissal came a day before results of a Brazilian Air Force investigation into the crash are due to be made public.

Brazil's Estado de S. Paulo and Folha de S. Paulo newspapers reported over the weekend that Air Force investigators determined the two American pilots had inadvertently placed their plane's transponder and the collision-avoidance system on standby.

The newspapers said the Air Force also concluded that flight controllers failed to alert the pilots that they were on a collision course and failed to notice that the transponder was turned off.

The Boeing 737 was operated by Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA and the executive jet by ExcelAire Service Inc. of Ronkonkoma, New York.

The pilots have denied turning off the transponder and have said they were flying at an altitude designated by the air controllers. They were allowed to leave Brazil after agreeing to return if courts summon them.