A Brazilian court found two U.S. pilots guilty on May 16, 2011 for their role in a 2006 plane crash on Brazilian soil that killed 154 people, one of the worst air disasters in Brazil's history. American pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino were flying a business jet that clipped the wing of a Boeing 737 operated by Brazilian airline Gol, which caused the 737 to crash deep in the Amazon rain forest.
The American pilots were convicted of negligence for failing to adequately check plane equipment that could have potentially alerted them to the 737's proximity. Lepore and Paladino, who were able to land their aircraft safely after the midair collision, received four year prison sentences that were later suspended by Brazilian federal judge Murilo Mendes. In what some are calling a controversial move, Mendes decided against jail time for the American pilots, instead requiring them to perform community service back in the United States.
Lepore and Paladino were not present in court for their sentencing, nor have the two set foot on Brazilian soil since 2006. Both have repeatedly denied responsibility for the fatal crash. A 2006 Brazilian Air Force report indicated that both aircraft were cleared to be flying at 37,000 feet at the same time, which shifted attention to air traffic controllers who complained of excessive workloads, low wages and blind spots in radar coverage.
“The criminal conviction of these pilots is a travesty,” according to former airline pilot and air disaster attorney John Greaves. “The pilots were simply easy-target scapegoats for what appears to be incompetent air traffic controllers. Why didn’t the 737’s proximity warning system warn the aircraft? Even assuming that pilot error was responsible, why was the American crew soley to blame? Why wasn’t the crew of the 737 to blame? How did the court know who was in the better position to see and avoid the other aircraft?”