Source AP ©

Judge to decide whether to blame pilots and traffic controllers

A federal judge will likely decide within two weeks whether to indict two U.S. pilots and four air traffic controllers for Brazil's air disaster.

Judge Murilo Mendes "has begun analyzing" the charges a prosecutor filed last week in a federal court in Sinop, a city near where the crash took place, spokesman Fabio Paz said by telephone.

Prosecutors sought to charge the Brazilian controllers and U.S. pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino for involuntary manslaughter and for exposing an aircraft to danger, crimes punishable by one to three years in prison, Paz said.

"Due to the complexity and repercussions of the case, the judge will take some two weeks before deciding if there are grounds for indictment," Paz said.

Under Brazilian law, judges - not grand juries - issue indictments.

The two pilots were detained for two months after the Sept. 29, 2006 crash that left 154 dead. They were allowed to leave the country after promising to return for any court proceedings.

Lepore, 42, and Paladino, 34, were flying an Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet when it collided with a Boeing 737 operated by Gol airlines, sending the passenger jet crashing into the Amazon rain forest.

The Legacy, owned by Ronkonkoma, New York-based ExcelAire Service Inc., managed to land safely.

Prosecutor Thiago Lemos de Andrade charged the pilots with accidentally turning off a transponder that transmitted the Legacy's location and failing to follow their flight plan. He also faulted the Brazilian controllers for allowing the two planes to continue on a collision course.

A lawyer for the pilots, Joel R. Weiss, has previously said the Americans are innocent.

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