Sunday, September 30, 2007

Day One of Year Two, and Dines From His 3-Inch Perch



It has now been a year and a day, and a few dozen things are going to be set straight starting today.

The lies and distortions, the vilification, the malicious slander and ugly threats that have been directed this way from Brazil in the last year are firmly on the record.

What is it I had done?

Oh, as the only survivor who was free to talk and write about the disaster, I told the truth of what I knew and sought the truth of what had happened.

I was painted as a villain for doing so by people, in the government, in the lickspittle Brazilian media, and among those with dollar signs (emphasis on the dollar, which remains quite fungible under favorable circumstances) in their eyes.

That's me above, in a charming graphic from Brazil that seems to suggest that I either had something to do with 9/11, or that it served me right. And yes, I have aged.

First let me deal with the allegations of my allegedly manifest lack of respect for those who died, which is one of the more odious lies that have refused to die a year later Down the Rabbit Hole. This particular canard was cooked-up during the media-fanned anti-American hysteria that followed the crash. It is routinely repeated by people in Brazil who perhaps do not know better, but who need to be reminded that grief does not exempt them from the common laws of libel and slander.

My father died several weeks after the crash, and in the delirium of his last excruciating pain-filled weeks he became convinced -- because he had just seen me on television with those awful pictures of the crash -- that I had died in a plane crash.

He was my father for 60 years, and he went to his grave believing that his first-born son had died in a crash in a jungle. As I stood at his bedside on his final night, in his delirium he said to my mother, "That man looks a lot like our Joe."

We all know grief, each in our own awful ways.

I have always expressed deep sorrow over the deaths, and deep sympathy for the relatives of the deceased, most of whom are now plaintiffs in a lawsuit against ExcelAire, the American owner of the Legacy, and Honeywell, the American company that manufactured the transponder unit in the Legacy. (The two Brazilian companies, Embraer, the manufacturer of the Legacy, and Gol Airlines, the operator of the 737 jet that went down, are not named in the lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court).

There is, in fact, abundant evidence of my often expressed sympathy for the dead and their relatives -- on the record, in print and in video. You could, and some did, look it up.

Some people with certain agendas Down the Rabbit Hole forget, or deliberately overlook, two major material facts:

One: I was a victim of this crash. (Oh, just watch the toadies take that sentence out of context!)

No, I didn't die or get physically injured. But to this day, none of the seven of us on the Legacy have any idea how we managed to walk away from a mid-air collision that every pilot I know says was not survivable. And every one of us (I assure you) relives those horrible moments repeatedly in our minds.

I can only imagine what goes through the minds of Joe Lepore and Jan Paladino, but I can do so knowing personally what emotional turmoil they went through when we learned, three hours after the crash, that there had been a collision between our plane and the Gol 737, with 154 dead.

You don't have to be an expert in human emotion to imagine the effect on anyone living through that.

From my strictly personal point of view, defined by everything I now know about that disaster, Brazilian air traffic control and the shoddy, disgraceful Brazilian air-traffic system very damn nearly killed me on Sept. 29, 2006, and afterward plunged me into what I will only describe as a very difficult period in my life, greatly aggravated by the vilification and lies.

I did not kill those people. I was merely a hitchhiker on an airplane, minding his own business when the world around me and those with me suddenly exploded.

I know it is desirable and expedient Down the Rabbit Hole to blame the Americans, but the Brazilian government and its air traffic control system put that crash firmly, and arguably inexorably, in place.

And if you claim otherwise, you are going to need better evidence than a transponder and TCAS system that may or may not have been inadvertently knocked off line, perhaps as a consequence of a badly designed foot-rest. You had better, for example, have an explanation for why that transponder went BACK online seconds after the crash -- and don't tell me you know that the pilots turned it back on. They did not.

And you had better be able to explain the following, among other things:

1. Why did Brazilian air traffic control fail to alert the Legacy to the fact, obvious to ATC, that the transponder wasn't signaling for nearly 5o minutes before collision? Why was there no attempt made to contact the Legacy?

2. Why did the Brazilian radar scope consistently show misreadings of the Legacy's altitude, in several instances indicating wild oscillations that in fact never occurred?

3. Why are we still hearing about a discarded "flight plan," when it is not in dispute that the Legacy was ordered to maintain 37,000 feet, and that ATC orders routinely override flight plans and are always to be followed?

4. Why have we heard so little on the record about the Gol's flight plan and clearance? Why have we not seen a transcript of the Gol cockpit voice recorder?

5. Why is the U.S. National Transportation Safety Board, which now knows precisely what happened on Sept. 29, sitting on its hands, citing procedure, when two American pilots are being criminally scapegoated?

Those questions go on, and will be revisited here.

Two: Literally from Day Two, very significant portions of the Brazilian media energetically abetted the government's cover-up and readily accepted outright lies as fact, by way of fanning the flames of anti-American hysteria. So many lies were flying my way that it took me months to realize the futility of trying to swat them all away.

Here is an example. It is on the record, if you choose to look at that particular shoddy record, that I supposedly told Brazilian investigators that the Legacy was performing dangerous aerial maneuvers over the Amazon right before the collision. On the record! You could look it up! The report on what I supposedly said, which turns out to have been conveyed to a group of reporters in Brazil by a lawyer putting together a lawsuit on behalf of the victims, was even carried worldwide by the Dow Jones News Service until I made them correct it.

Obviously, I never said any such thing.

What I did say, which created the initial storm of furor, was that international pilots were telling me that Brazilian air traffic control was unreliable, and that there were well-known radio and radar problems over the Amazon. (By the way, an Air Force investigator looking over our damaged plane at the site where we landed told me the same thing in confidence). I said this not in a newspaper story, as was widely claimed in Brazil, but in a quick interview with CNN a couple of days after the crash. Both assertions about Brazil's unsafe skies, of course, are now widely known to be true.

And that brings me to the Brazilian media itself. In the early stages of this long process of trying to hammer out the truth on this blog, I responded to most Brazilian media requests (or in some cases demands) for interviews. I did these print and television interviews, which I hate to do, as a matter of journalistic responsibility.

But again and again and again, I found that reporters wanted merely to confront me with bogus claims, which I then was expected to refute. Here they were, talking to the only survivor who was free to speak about the crash, and all they wanted to do was argue with him!

I'd never before experienced anything remotely like it in journalism. Subsequently it struck me as being probably a bit like the experience one might go through if one were foolish enough to be on the other side of Bill O'Reilly's microphone and kill button.

Which finally brings me to this Alberto Dines, a misdemeanor in the Brazilian media whose unfortunate job it is to scold the felonies. Mr. Dines is a press critic and political observer, something, I gather, of a Latin American David Broder, puffing reflectively on that pipe while ruminating about Lessons Learned by the Media Gentry.

Now, this is an unkind thing to say, but I am not feeling kind:

Being a press critic in Brazil is kind of like being the sheriff in the town with the 100-room whorehouse. Every so often the sheriff has to ride down Main Street blowing his tin whistle and shooting his cap-gun in the air and scaring the girls, just to make it look good for the Proprietors and other respectable citizens.

Sheriff Dines recently wrote the following, which asserts that the big problem seems to be the "humiliating" experience of the two recent air disasters in Brazil, rather than that nation's manifest failure to do anything to fundamentally improve safety in the 12 months since the first one:

"In Brazilian society there remains the bitter taste of revulsion for the humiliating aviation collapse which paralyzed the country along the ten following months, but, overall, for the second catastrophe which took the lives of another 199 citizens.

"It was not the government that was to blame for the collision of the Gol Boeing with the Legacy jet in the Amazon's air space, nor for the explosion of the TAM Airbus on striking a warehouse next door to Congonhas Airport.

"But one can affirm that the Brazilian state, managed by a pusillanimous Executive - visibly worried about the runoff ballot in the presidential elections - was incapable of avoiding the climate of political emotion that impeded both the emergency actions designed to avoid chaos in air traffic as well as, afterward, braking the irresponsibility of the duopoly which dominates commercial aviation.

"It must be recognized that the performance of the then minister of Defense, Waldir Pires, was calamitous following the collision. Well intentioned, conscious of the dangers that a catastrophe of those proportions represented to the candidate for reelection in the final runoff on October 30, the minister delivered himself to a shouting match with the American journalist who was aboard the Legacy and, soon after, with the jet's two pilots, of the same nationality.

"A Minister of State does not get involved in corner brawls, and besides that, it wasn't his line of work, the Air Force has experience and highly qualified personnel to handle situations of this sort. ..."

Wait a minute! Somebody get the key to the gas-mask locker! "It was not that the government was to blame?" If not, who?

Oh.

The obsequious Dines, lost in whatever mists surround him on his three-inch-high parrot perch, seems to think that I chose to draw the "well intentioned" Defense Minister into what he calls a "shouting match" and "corner brawls." In fact, as anyone with the sense of a turnip ought to be able to guess, I never heard of the fellow until he started denouncing me in public.

And, in what sounds like a bad line that didn't make it into "The Sopranos," this Dines darkly suggests that "the Air Force has experience and highly qualified personnel to handle situations of this sort. ..."

Jayzus, Dines! What are you intimating there? "The Air Force has highly qualified personnel to handle situations of this sort"!

Dammit, now, I forget what the hit men are supposed to do -- take the cannolis and leave the gun, or vice versa? For protection, I'd go find Tony Soprano, but he was killed at Holsten's, which is now just a neighborhood soda fountain and candy shop again.

To those accustomed to genuflecting to power, even while sweetly whispering the gentlest of admonitions in the hush tones that might be heard in the Vatican apartments ("Ah, dear Cardinal Dines! We do so appreciate your counsel!"), speaking the truth evidently sounds a bit like shouting.

Oh, I remember now. It's leave the gun, take the cannolis. If I turn up in a trunk in the Meadowlands, please drag this Dines and find out where he was on the night in question.

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1 comment:

bode said...

Hi Joe,

Thanks for keeping this blog -- I am fascinated by the entire story. Of course, I love to fly, get to travel a lot for work, and most importantly have a real love for aviation accident reports. Anyway, my question is, do you have any idea why the NTSB is not releasing their report? In almost any other international aviation accident investigation the NTSB would be thanked in the opening remarks, along with the airplane vendor's technical staff. Is there any reason their report isn't public, and/or isn't available via the FOIA?

Anyway, keep up the good work! I hope this has a reasonable resolution for all involved, especially the overall safety of the region's ATC.