On September 29, 2006, exactly 16 years ago today, Gol Transportes Aéreos Flight 1907 collided midair with an Embraer Legacy 600 business jet over the Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, killing all 157 passengers and crew. The aircraft performing the regularly scheduled flight between Manaus and Rio de Janeiro was a one-month-old Boeing 737-800 registered PR-GTD.
Piloting the plane was 44-years-old Captain Decio Chaves Jr., assisted by 29-year-old First Officer Thiago Jordão Cruso. The captain, also a Boeing 737 instructor with Gol, had 15,498 total flying hours, of which 13,521 were on the Boeing 737. First officer Cruso, meanwhile, had 3,981 total flight hours, of which 3,081 were on the 737.
Both planes were heading for Manaus
Gol Flight 1907 departed Eduardo Gomes International Airport (MAO) in Manaus on time at 15:35 en route to Rio de Janeiro–Galeão International Airport (GIG), with a planned intermediate stop at Brasília International Airport (BSB).
The other aircraft involved in the collision was a 13-seat twin turbofan Embraer Legacy 600 business jet, registration N600XL. The aircraft was brand new and was on its delivery flight from São José dos Campos-Professor Urbano Ernesto Stumpf Airport (SJK), near São Paulo, to Long Island MacArthur Airport (ISP) in New York.
The flight path of the GOL 737. Image: GCmaps.
Just like the GOL flight, it was also making a brief stop at Eduardo Gomes International Airport (MAO) in Manaus. Piloting the plane were two experienced American pilots, 42-year-old Captain Joseph Lepore and 34-year-old First Officer Jan Paul Paladino. Both were previously commercial pilots in the United States and were qualified to fly the Embraer Legacy 600.
At 16:45 local time, the two aircraft collided head-on while flying at an altitude of 37,000 feet. The winglet of the business jet took off half of the Boeing 737s left wing, causing the plane to nosedive into the jungle below. Despite the collision, the Embraer could continue flying, although needing an unusual amount of force on the yoke to keep the wings level.
A nearby Polar Air Cargo Boeing 747 provided radio help guiding the Legacy 600 to a military airfield about 100 miles from where the planes collided. Immediately after the plane landed at Cachimbo Air Base, the Brazilian Air Force and Agência Nacional de Aviação Civil officers arrived and detained the two pilots for questioning. In a deposition, the Embraer pilots said that they had been cleared to climb to 37,000 and that the Legacy 600s anti-collision system did not alert them to the impending collision.
The aircraft’s black box and cockpit voice recorder were then sent to Canada to be analyzed by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB).
At first, the two Embraer pilots were told to hand over their passports and remain in Brazil, but this was later overruled by a federal judge.
Before they were allowed to return to the United States, both pilots were charged with endangering an aircraft and the possibility of facing up to 12 years in prison.
The conclusion of the investigation
Nearly two years after the collision, the CENIPA issued its final report. In its report, it listed the following as contributing factors:
- Air Traffic Controllers (ATC) gave an improper clearance to the pilots in the Legacy and did not correct the mistake before handing control of the plane to Brasilia ATC.
- Errors were also found to have been made when Brasilia ATC lost radio and radar contact with the plane.
- The Legacy 600 pilots contributed to the collision by failing to notice that the aircraft’s transponder was switched off, which disabled the anti-collision warning system.
- Embraer’s failure to properly prepare the pilots for the flight.
- A haste by the pilots to depart without an adequate knowledge of the flight plan.
- Informal behavior by the pilots and their lack of knowledge about the Legacy 600.
In its report into the collision, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) agreed with the Brazilian findings and added that the accident occurred because air traffic controllers had both planes flying toward each other on the same flight level.
Despite years of judicial wrangling, neither of the two Embraer pilots or the air traffic controllers went to prison.