On September 29, 2006, GOL Airlines Flight 1907 flying at 37,000 feet collided in midair with an Embraer Legacy business jet over the Amazon jungle in Brazil. The badly-damaged business jet landed safely at a remote military base, but the GOL Airlines 737 was damaged too severely and crashed, tragically claiming the lives of the 154 passengers and crew aboard that flight. In the immediate aftermath of that tragedy, Brazilian authorities initiated criminal investigations and prosecuted the pilots of the business jet and the air traffic controllers. The actions by those authorities stand as the most noteworthy example of government criminalization of an aviation accident and caused many in the aviation industry to re-evaluate and refine their post-accident response procedures.
Aviation safety advocates have long admonished that criminalization of an aviation accident impedes cooperation by flight crews, mechanics, and manufacturers in an investigation, with negative consequences for aviation safety. Jim Hall, former Chairman of the NTSB, has testified before Congress concerning how several NTSB investigations were impeded by fear of criminal prosecution. It stands to reason: If pilots, air traffic controllers and other aviation professionals believe that their livelihood, and even freedom may be taken away by cooperation with a civil accident investigation, they might think twice before providing information to accident investigators. The investigation, and aviation safety, invariably will suffer as a result.
Brazilian authorities seized the passports of the two pilots of the business jet shortly after the accident and prevented their departure from Brazil during the pendency of the ongoing criminal investigation. They remained in custody for over two months, and returned to the United States only after a legal battle resulted in an order from the Brazilian Supreme Court requiring their release. The pilots later were indicted and, ultimately, convicted of negligently exposing an aircraft to danger. The legal drama continued to 2015, with the Brazilian Supreme Court upholding the conviction of the two pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino. Many have suggested that political factors played a key role in Brazil’s pursuit of criminal charges. The Brazilian Aeronautical Accidents Investigation and Prevention Center (CENIPA) and the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which collaborated with CENIPA on the accident investigation, reached differing conclusions regarding the causes of the accident. Specifically, the NTSB did not agree that the Legacy pilots' actions were a causal factor, noting, “The crew flew the route precisely as cleared and complied with all ATC instructions.”
AViCON Recalls Ten Year Anniversary of GOL Midair Collision with Panel Discussion on Criminalization of Aviation Accidents
On September 29, 2016, the ten-year anniversary of the GOL Flight 1907 tragedy, AViCON will feature a panel discussion on the criminalization of aviation accidents, with first-person perspectives drawn from that accident.
The panel features David Rimmer, former President of ExcelAire and a passenger onboard the ExcelAire Embraer Legacy 600 business jet involved in the collision; William English, the NTSB ICAO Annex 13 representative and NTSB Investigator In Charge (IIC) who participated on the civil accident investigation, Robert Torricella, the attorney who represented the two pilots and remained with them in Brazil to manage the legal and public relations response to the accident and ultimately helped secure their return to the United States, and Sherry Ortiz, a Senior Vice President at USAIG, the insurer for ExcelAire.
The discussion will address the events after the accident, the negative effects of criminalization on aviation safety and accident investigation, and offer insight on how to assist clients with foreign aviation accidents drawn from their experiences.
AViCON is the first occasion that the members of the panel have come together to collectively discuss the events following the GOL midair collision and their first-hand experiences and their discussion should be riveting.