Brazil court to review conviction of LI pilots in fatal crash

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An appellate court in Brazil next week will review the conviction of two Long Island pilots for their role in a 2006 midair collision that killed 154 people.

The appellate court ruling will come 17 months after the pilots of a Ronkonkoma-based ExcelAire business jet were convicted of one count and exonerated on five other counts and sentenced to community service.

The pilots, Joseph Lepore of Bay Shore and Jan Paladino of Westhampton Beach, were convicted in absentia after being allowed to leave the country.

After a judge sentenced the pilots to 52 months in prison and then commuted it to the same amount of time in community service in the United States, the prosecutor appealed the sentence as too lenient and the defendants appealed the verdict and sentence.

"We're seeking the reversal of the single count of conviction to be replaced by a judgment of acquittal," said Joel Weiss, the pilots' Uniondale attorney.

After the appellate court rules following Monday's proceedings, either side could appeal to two higher levels of appeals courts.

The appeal by the prosecutor calls for the sentence to be increased to 69 months with no possibility of community service.

The pilots were convicted of failing to notice their collision-avoidance system was not operating. Prosecutor Osnir Belice said "the sentence should be increased because despite being professionals, the defendants kept the aircraft's anti-collision system turned off for almost one hour, thus causing the accident."

The pilots have insisted that they never turned off the anti-collision equipment or were responsible in any way for the collision.

In March 2011, the American pilots testified in the Brazilian trial on charges of unintentionally endangering an aircraft through a videoconferencing system from the federal courthouse in Central Islip. Paladino, the co-pilot, testified that the corporate jet's transponder and collision-avoidance system had not been turned off either intentionally or accidentally.

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The Embraer Legacy 600 executive jet flown by Lepore and Paladino collided with a Boeing 737 operated by Gol airlines over the Amazon jungle. All aboard the Gol plane died when it crashed. The ExcelAire pilots successfully landed the severely damaged plane. Neither the pilots nor their passengers were injured.

Lepore is still flying for ExcelAire, and Paladino is flying for American Airlines.

A Brazilian air traffic controller was convicted and sentenced to 3 years and 4 months.

With AP

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