A Brazilian military court has convicted an air traffic controller over the 2006 collision between a GOL Linhas Aéreas Inteligentes Boeing 737-800 and a new Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet being ferried north to the U.S. by two American pilots, who also face charges. The collision, which took place over a remote area of the Brazilian rainforest, downed the 737-800 and 154 people aboard the airliner were killed. The Embraer business jet, which also had a New York Times air-travel columnist on board, landed safely. Citing the Agencia Brasil news agency, The Washington Post reports the controller – a sergeant in the Brazilian air force – was sentenced to 14 months in jail for failing to take action when he saw that the Legacy's TCAS (traffic alerting and collision avoidance system) had been turned off. Four other controllers (also all air force personnel) were acquitted for lack of proof.
The controller's lawyer said he would appeal the conviction, noting the controller did not speak English and couldn't have spoken to the pilots. The controller will remain free throughout the appeal process. The counsel for the two American pilots said the real cause of the accident was the shortcomings of Brazil's air traffic control system. The pilots face charges in Brazil of negligence and endangering air traffic safety for allegedly flying at the wrong altitude and for failing to keep the Legacy's TCAS system turned on. A 2008 Brazilian air force report partly blamed the pilots for the crash but the U.S. National Safety Transportation Board strongly disagreed, issuing a report which cited systemic shortcomings in Brazil's ATC system.
After the accident it was found that the switch controlling the Legacy 600's TCAS could easily be turned off accidentally and that the small text-message which announced the non-functioning of the TCAS could easily be overlooked if pilots' attention was directed to other tasks involved in flying the aircraft.