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Discussion in 'The Lounge' started by gjk5, Oct 3, 2006.

  1. gjk5

    gjk5 3/4 ton status

    Mar 17, 2004
    Likes Received:
    Grand Junction, CO
    October 3, 2006
    On the Road
    Colliding With Death at 37,000 Feet, and Living
    SÃO JOSE DOS CAMPOS, Brazil, Oct. 1
    It had been an uneventful,
    comfortable flight.

    With the window shade drawn, I was relaxing in my leather seat aboard
    a $25 million corporate jet that was flying 37,000 feet above the
    vast Amazon rain-forest The 7 of us on board the 13-passenger jet
    were keeping to ourselves.

    Without warning, I felt a terrific jolt and heard a loud bang,
    followed by an eerie silence, save for the hum of the engines.

    And then the three words I will never forget. We've been hit, said
    Henry Yandle, a fellow passenger standing in the aisle near the
    cockpit of the Embraer Legacy 600 jet.

    Hit? By what? I wondered. I lifted the shade. The sky was clear;
    the sun low in the sky. The rain-forest went on forever. But there,
    at the end of the wing, was a jagged ridge, perhaps a foot high,
    where the five-foot-tall winglet was supposed to be.

    And so began the most harrowing 30 minutes of my life. I would be
    told time and again in the next few days that nobody ever survives a
    midair collision. I was lucky to be alive and only later would I
    learn that the 155 people aboard the Boeing 737 on a domestic flight
    that seems to have clipped us were not.

    Investigators are still trying to sort out what happened, and how ?
    our smaller jet managed to stay aloft while a 737 that is longer,
    wider and more than three times as heavy, fell from the sky nose first.

    But at 3:59 last Friday afternoon, all I could see, all I knew, was
    that part of the wing was gone. And it was clear that the situation
    was worsening in a hurry. The leading edge of the wing was losing
    rivets, and starting to peel back.

    Amazingly, no one panicked. The pilots calmly starting scanning their
    controls and maps for signs of a nearby airport, or, out their
    window, a place to come down.

    But as the minutes passed, the plane kept losing speed. By now we all
    knew how bad this was. I wondered how badly ditching, an optimistic
    term for crashing, was going to hurt.

    I thought of my family. There was no point reaching for my cell phone
    to try a call as there was no signal. And as our hopes sank with the
    sun, some of us jotted notes to spouses and loved ones and placed
    them in our wallets, hoping the notes would later be found.

    I was focused on a different set of notes when the flight began. I've
    contributed the On the Road column for The New York Times business-
    travel section every week for the last seven years. But I was on the
    Embraer 600 for a freelance assignment for Business Jet Traveler

    My fellow passengers included executives from Embraer and a charter
    company called ExcelAire, the new owner of the jet. David Rimmer, the
    senior vice president of Excel Aire, had invited me to ride home on
    the jet his company had just taken possession of at Embraer's
    headquarters here.

    And it had been a nice ride. Minutes before we were hit, I had
    wandered up to the cockpit to chat with the pilots, who said the
    plane was flying beautifully. I saw the readout that showed our
    altitude: 37,000 feet.

    I returned to my seat. Minutes later came the strike (it sheared off
    part of the plane's tail, too, we later learned).

    Immediately afterward, there wasn't much conversation.

    Mr. Rimmer, a large man, was hunched in the aisle in front of me
    staring out the window at the newly damaged wing.

    How bad is it? I asked.

    He fixed me with a steady look and said, "I don't know."

    I saw the body language of the two pilots. They were like infantrymen
    working together in a jam, just as they had been trained to do.

    For the next 25 minutes, the pilots, Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino,
    were scanning their instruments, looking for an airport. Nothing
    turned up.

    They sent out a Mayday signal, which was acknowledged by a cargo
    plane somewhere in the region. There had been no contact with any
    other plane, and certainly not with a 737 in the same airspace.

    Mr. Lepore then spotted a runway through the darkening canopy of trees

    I can see an airport, he said.

    They tried to contact the control tower at what turned out to be a
    military base hidden deep in the Amazon. They steered the plane
    through a big wide sweep to avoid putting too much stress on the wing.

    As they approached the runway, they had the first contact with air
    traffic control.

    We didn't know how much runway we had or what was on it, Mr.
    Paladino would say later that night at the base in the jungle at

    We came down hard and fast. I watched the pilots wrestle the aircraft
    because so many of their automatic controls were blown. They brought
    us to a halt with plenty of runway left. We staggered to the exit.

    Nice flying, I told the pilots as I passed them. Actually, I
    inserted an unprintable word between nice and flying.

    Any time, Mr. Paladino, said with an anxious smile.

    Later that night they gave us cold beer and food at the military
    base. We speculated endlessly about what had caused the impact. A
    wayward weather balloon? A hot-dogging military fighter jet whose
    pilot had bailed? An airliner somewhere nearby that had blown up, and
    rained debris on us?

    Whatever the cause, it had become clear that we had been involved in
    an actual midair crash that none of us should have survived.

    In a moment of gallows humor at the dorm-like barracks where we were
    to sleep, I said, Maybe we are all actually dead, and this is hell?
    reliving college bull sessions with a can of beer for eternity.

    About 7.30 p.m. Dan Bachmann, an Embraer executive and the only one
    among us who spoke Portuguese, came to the table in the mess hall
    with news from the commander's office. A Boeing 737 with 155 people
    on board was reported missing right where we had been hit.

    Before that moment, we had all been bonding, joking about our close
    call. We were the Amazon Seven, living now on precious time that no
    longer belonged to us but somehow we had acquired. We would have a
    reunion each year and report on how we used our time.

    Instead we now bowed our heads in a long moment of silence, with the
    sound of muffled tears.

    Both pilots, experienced corporate jet pilots, were shaken by the
    ordeal. If anybody should have gone down it should have been us,
    Mr. Lepore, 42, of Bay Shore, N.Y., kept saying.

    Mr. Paladino, 34, of Westhampton, N.Y., was barely able to speak.
    I'm just trying to settle in with the loss of all those people. It
    is really starting to hurt, he said.

    Mr. Yandle told them: You guys are heroes. You saved our lives.
    They smiled wanly. It was clear the weight of all this would remain
    with them forever.

    The next day, the base was swarming with Brazilian authorities
    investigating the accident and directing search operations for the
    downed 737, which an officer told me lay in an area less than 100
    miles south of us that could be reached only by whacking away by hand
    at dense jungle.

    We also got access to our plane, which was being pored over by
    inspectors. Ralph Michielli, vice president for maintenance at
    ExcelAire and a fellow passenger on the flight, took me up on a lift
    to see the damage to the wing near the sheared-off winglet.

    A panel near the leading edge of the wing had separated by a foot or
    more. Dark stains closer to the fuselage showed that fuel had leaked
    out. Parts of the horizontal stabilizer on the tail had been smashed,
    and a small chunk was missing off the left elevator.

    A Brazilian military inspector standing by surprised me by his
    willingness to talk, although the conversation was limited by his
    weak English and my nonexistent Portuguese.

    He was speculating on what happened, but this is what he said: Both
    planes were, inexplicably, at the same altitude in the same space in
    the sky. The southeast-bound 737 pilots spotted our Legacy 600, which
    was flying northwest to Manaus, and made a frantic evasive bank. The
    737 wing, swooping into the space between our wing and the high tail,
    clipped us twice, and the bigger plane then went into its death spiral.

    It sounded like an impossible situation, the inspector acknowledged.
    But I think this happened, he said. Though no one can say for
    certain yet how the accident occurred, three other Brazilian officers
    told me they had been informed that both planes were at the same

    Why did I, the closest passenger to the impact hear no sound, no
    roar of a big 737?

    I asked Jeirgem Prust, a test pilot for Embraer. This was the
    following day, when we had been transferred from the base by military
    aircraft to a police headquarters in Cuiaba. That's where authorities
    had laid claim to jurisdiction and where the pilots and passengers of
    the Legacy 600, including me, would be questioned until dawn by an
    intense police commander and his translators.

    Mr. Prust took out a calculator and tapped away, figuring the time
    that would be available to hear the roar of a jet coming at another
    jet, each flying at over 500 miles an hour in opposite directions. He
    showed me the numbers. It's far less than a split second, he said.
    We both looked at the pilots slouched on couches across the room.

    These guys and that plane saved our lives, I said.

    By my calculations, he agreed.

    I later thought that perhaps the pilot of the Brazilian airliner had
    also saved our lives because of his quick reactions. If only his own
    passengers could say the same.

    At the police headquarters, we were required to write on a sheet of
    paper our names, addresses, birth-dates, occupations and levels of
    education, plus the names of our parents. We were all also required
    to submit to an examination by a physician with long hair who wore a
    white gown that draped almost to his shins. We were required to strip
    to the waists for photographs front and back.

    This, explained the physician, whose name I did not get but who
    described himself to me as a forensic doctor, was to prove that we
    had not been tortured in any way.

    Again gallows humor rose despite our attempts to discourage it

    This guy's the coroner, Mr. Yandle explained later, and then added,
    I think that means we are actually dead.

    But laughs, such as they were, died out by now as we thought again
    and again of the bodies still unclaimed in the jungle, and how their
    lives and ours had intersected, literally and metaphorically, for one
    horrible split second.

    I checked on this and it appears to be true, here is a link to CNN article on the crash:

  2. ntsqd

    ntsqd 1/2 ton status

    Nov 28, 2002
    Likes Received:
    So. CA
    At a loss for words.

    I had heard of the accident thru the local paper, but had no idea.
  3. FOR MUD

    FOR MUD 1/2 ton status Premium Member GMOTM Winner

    Apr 6, 2006
    Likes Received:
    Clayton Del
    Not many people live to tell a story like that .
  4. ntsqd

    ntsqd 1/2 ton status

    Nov 28, 2002
    Likes Received:
    So. CA
    Off yahoo this evening:

    "Pilots may face charges in Brazil crash

    By PETER MUELLO, Associated Press Writer 1 minute ago

    RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - Prosecutors could charge two American pilots of an executive jet with manslaughter following the high-altitude collision with a Brazilian jetliner that apparently led to a crash that killed all 155 people aboard, federal police said Wednesday.

    Police seized the passports of pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino, both from New York State. The two were not arrested, but cannot leave the country.

    Lepore and Paladino were piloting the Brazilian-made Embraer Legacy 600 when it collided with a brand-new Boeing 737-800 above the Amazon rain forest near Peixoto de Azevedo in Mato Grosso state, some 1,100 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.

    Gol airlines Flight 1907 crashed, killing all 155 aboard. The Legacy was damaged, but landed safely at an air force base.

    Mato Grosso's acting federal police director, Geraldo Pereira, said the Federal Prosecutor's Office had ordered an investigation into "the possible commission of a crime."

    "We will start investigating if the two pilots caused the accident and if they are considered guilty, they could be charged with involuntary manslaughter," Pereira said.

    Lepore and Paladino underwent questioning and routine physical tests in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday and did not talk to journalists.

    Mato Grosso state prosecutor Adriano Roberto Alves wants to question the two, as well as air controllers and other passengers of the Legacy, his press office said Wednesday.

    It said Alves will rely on police investigations to decide whether criminal charges will be filed.

    The air force said both jets were equipped with a modern traffic collision avoidance system, which monitors other planes and sets off an alarm if they get too close.

    But Pereira said the Legacy's transponder, which automatically transmits electronic signals that communicate a plane's location, may not have been operating.

    "Preliminary investigations indicate that the pilots may have turned off the transponder, that they knew the risks they were running and nevertheless they took certain attitudes that endangered the lives of people," he said.

    Judge Tiago Souza Nogueira de Abreu, who ordered the investigation, told the government news service Agencia Brasil that "the hypothesis of a failure by the crew is not discarded."

    Officials have told local news media that air traffic controllers had ordered the jetliner to maintain an altitude of 37,000 feet while the Legacy was supposed to be at 36,000 feet.

    U.S. journalist Joe Sharkey, who was on the Legacy, wrote in the New York Times that shortly before the crash, he saw an altitude display reading 37,000 feet.

    The Legacy was making its inaugural flight from the southern Brazilian city of Sao Jose dos Campos to the United States, where it had been purchased by ExcelAire Service Inc., based in Long Island, New York.

    The company "has never been involved in an accident since its founding in 1985," ExcelAire spokeswoman Lisa Hendrickson said by phone on Wednesday. "Both pilots were captain-qualified to fly the Legacy."

    Hendrickson told the newspaper Newsday that Lepore, a commercial pilot for more than 20 years from Bay Shore, N.Y., had logged more than 8,000 hours of flight time while Paladino, of Westhampton Beach, N.Y., has more than 6,400 hours of flight time and has been a commercial pilot for a decade, she said.

    Four U.S. experts from the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board arrived in Brazil to help with the investigation, the National Civil Aviation Agency said Wednesday. Observers from Boeing and Embraer also were taking part.

    Among those killed in the crash of the Gol jet was U.S. citizen Douglas Hancock, 35, of Missouri. He was in Mato Grosso for business and was returning to Rio de Janeiro where he lived, his father, Paul Hancock, told the Southeast Missourian newspaper. "

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