FlightAware Discussions

Embraer and 737 Midair collision

Came here to look for article and was surprised no one had posted it yet:
travel2.nytimes.com/2006/10/03/b … 3road.html

Published: October 3, 2006

SO 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 rainforest. 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. Weve 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 rainforest 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 cellphone to try a call 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. Ive contributed the On the Roadcolumn 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 magazine.

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 Embraers 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 planes tail, too, we later learned).

Immediately afterward, there wasnt 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 dont 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 didnt 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 Cachimbo.

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 dormlike 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 commanders 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. Im 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 altitude.

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. Thats 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. Its 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, birthdates, 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 guys 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.

Lots of info out there, but thanks for the heads up. Seems to be two stories, one of a collision and one of the Embraer hitting debris. Talk about luck ( and lack of it )

Brazil Rescue Crews Comb Amazon Crash; No Signs of Survivors

By Andrew J. Barden

Oct. 1 (Bloomberg) – Brazilian search-and-rescue crews resumed operations today near the wreckage of a Gol passenger plane that crashed in the Amazon jungle with 155 people aboard. No signs of any survivors have been found.

Army troops spent the night at the crash site in the middle of the jungle to try and clear a landing site for helicopters. Bodies are being flown to the Serra do Cachimbo military base for identification, the Globo news service said.

Debris from the plane operated by Gol Linhas Aereas Inteligentes SA is concentrated in a tight circle, suggesting the plane crashed into the ground at a high speed, according to Jose Carlos Pereira, the head of airport operator Infraero. The flight was on its way to the capital Brasilia from Manaus, in the heart of the Amazon, when it went down on Sept. 29.

The plane was found in Mato Grosso state’s Amazon jungle region, in the central-western part of Brazil. Pereira said the wreckage is in a dense part of the jungle that’s difficult to access, forcing rescue crews to be lowered from helicopters.

Separately, seven people flying in a Legacy jet made by Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica SA over the Amazon at the same time as the Gol plane said they felt a jolt while in the air, Globo reported today, citing police reports.

Hit by Debris?

The Embraer jet, as the aircraft maker is known, then lost stability and the automatic pilot disengaged, Globo said. The pilot took manual control of the aircraft and decided to make an emergency landing after noticing damage to the plane, according to the news service.

None of the passengers on the plane said they saw the Gol aircraft and police aren’t ruling out that the Embraer jet may have been hit by debris from the Gol plane that crashed, Globo said.

There were 149 passengers and six crew members on board the Gol plane, a new Boeing Co. 737-800, which was delivered to the airline on Sept. 12. The plane had only logged 234 hours of flight time, said Gol’s Chief Executive Officer Constantino Oliveira Jr.

About 100 military officials are in the region and another 200 military and civil officials are working at airports providing information to families and journalists, the aviation authority said.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has declared three days of mourning in Brazil.

To contact the reporters on this story: Katia Cortes in Brasilia at at barden@bloomberg.net

Flight Aware challenge!!

Can Flight Aware members piece together the cause of this mishap before the official cause is released??


edit: updated photo link

In this photo, it appears landing gear was extended before impact. Does this rule out in flight explosion. Did 737 pilot have control after collision with Embraer? Was there a collision?

My guess is that the pilot may have extended the gear after hitting the other aircraft in an attempt to bleed off airspeed. Or, it could have been the force of the crash that caued the gear to extend.

The boobs at A.net have already taken the cake on that one.

Thought about it, but there’s not a whole lot of info., other than the death toll and a few stories from the Legacy pax. May the victims rest in peace, and their families find strength in their grief.

I’m sure blitzer could tell us exactly how this happened…

OOPS, I said the “b” word!!


There certainly are a lot of unanswered questions. What was the NW bound bizjet doing at FL370? Why didn’t the TCAS work?

This posted this morning: http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061004/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/brazil_plane_crash

There certainly are a lot of unanswered questions

edit: quoted jhwenger, messed that up, must give credit where credit is due

That is what I am thinking. Too much conflicting info. ATC not working, Pilot of Embraer not responding to ATC. Plane on autopilot. Pilot of Embraer reacts to situation saving eight, 737 exploding in midair, 737 landing gear extendeded in crash photo, debris scatterd for miles, damage to Embraer on two separate control surfaces spaced substantial distances apart. Plus Brazilian authorities seem quick to blame Embraer pilot. Most amazing of all is that the passengers and crew of the Embraer lived to tell their tales.

Maybe we are used to weeks and months of investigation before answers are forthcoming. There are plane mishaps and crashes every week/day, yet most of those send up flags like this one.

Mind if I guess? What if they put in the wrong altimeter setting i.e. 28.92 or millibar equivilant out of FL180, or whatever altitude they change over in Brazil. I tried this on my flight sim and lo and behold, the aircfaft climbed exactly 1000ft. The controllers might have noticed a mode-c error, had the pilots verify their altitude, then instructed them to stop alt. squawk. This would have them crusing 1000ft. high, and with no mode-c, the controllers would using the pilot verified alt. for separation. My two cents, and 25yrs. controller experience.

thanks jmoylan.

I think as the days go by more of this info will start to reveal itself.

One of my students today sugested that the winglet may have struck the nose of the 737 while the tail hit the engine. It seems possible that if spaced perfectly, these two control surfaces on the Embraer could have struck the 737 in these two locations.

Question, could the tubofan ingest tail frangments and still function? If a malfunction occured, would it leed to other issues like loss of fuel, fire, loss of hydraulics which would then force the pilot to drop the landing gear to maintain control of the aircraft.

I think like many air accidents, a series of unfolding events would lead up to an accident like this.

Can’t say I know what happened at all.


I have flown over that area a number of times, my last job took me to Argentina every other month. Anyway… EVERYTIME I flew over Brazil we never talked to anyone. We made all our position reports in the blind (your not in radar contact). Very unnerving, as soon as we crossed the border to Argentina or Uruguay we would be talking to ATC again, but still not in radar contact.

As far as an incorrect altimeter setting. It’s possible but very unlikely; glass cockpit aircraft (assuming the 737 was) would have a button you would press to set “STD,” and would have at least 3 alt that needed set. If 1 of the 2 primary altimeters were off by 1000’ they would have received a comparator warning.

The wrong direction altitude isn’t that unusual, we did it a lot of times if we ere step climbing up to a final altitude.

Landing gear out MIGHT suggest an emergency decent. (Pre or Post impact I don’t know). I doubt that landing gear extended is part of that checklist, but they may be limited to airspeed in the decent with structural damage. (As is the case in my aircraft) Lowering gear/flaps would allow for a higher rate of decent without increasing airspeed. (We teach it in the sim that way). As is the case in any emergency the PIC has the final say, even if they go outside the AFM/Ops Manual, though they leave themselves out there as well.

Anyway God bless all of them.

First hand knowledge counts for a whole lot.

The interesting part of this topic is exploring the " what if’s ". Without a third person account or info from the fight recorder, educated guesses are it.

Again, news about the story is still widely varied, and the Brazilians have seemed to have toned down the talk of manslaughter charges against the pilots.

What if ? Altimeter set incorrectly and Embraer sends back altitude info that is incorrect. ATC would see proper separation on their screen. Again, the missing link here is the 737-800. Being a new aircraft, could there have been familiarity problems on the part of the 737 crew? Does the " glass coxpit " of the 800 differ greatly from the 500 etc.


Mode C, altitude encoding transponders, and therefore TCAS, works independantly of the altimeters these days (it was different 20 years ago). The transponder is connected to the static pressure and encodes the altitude to the standard 29.92. The ATC equipment then converts the altitude to the current setting and displays the information accordingly.

When ATC informs you of an altitude variation, touching up your altitude with the adjustment knob does not decrease your odds of getting violated. All encoding systems, whether they are built into the altimeter or not, transmit your altitude corrected to 29.92 inches, or standard barometric pressure. ATC’s ground equipment makes the altitude corrections directly onto the controller’s screen. In short, what you dial up on your altimeter has no effect on what they see on their screens. As a friend in ATC once noted, you won’t get violated in any case for a 200 foot deviation, but the guys on the ground will rank you as an amateur and treat you accordingly.

now they are threatening to prosecute the surviving pilots because they ‘turned off’ the transponder.

Thats an interesting conclusion - how can they figure that one out? Why would pilots flying a biz jet @ FL370 turn off the transponder? What possible gain is there to that? Whatever happened to Cui bono? Either the Embrarer was slowing down to drop all those bails of drugs out over the amazon, or maybe the police captain sees a chance to buy a retirement home.

This seems like the typical third world situation where in order for ‘all those people to die, somebody must haev broken the law,’ whatever the law means, and since dead men tell no tale, we can’t prosecute the dead, so we’ll round up the living and reach the conclusion and then give them a chance to ‘explain themselves,’ After all, the police have no idea about aviation in the US, so how can expect them to know whats what in Brazil?

If they had an altitude bust they might so that ATC wouldn’t see it.

I’ve never done that though, only heard about it.

turn it off at the exact moment you hit someone - hmmm.

you couldn’t plan that - huh. Your time is up when that happens . . .

I think the report were that the transponder had been off for sometime, not at the instant of the crash. Anyway you asked why someone would turn off the transponder and I gave you a valid reason.

Just found this.

news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20061102/ap_ … lane_crash

( exerpt ) Report: Tower error lead to plane crash By MICHAEL ASTOR, Associated Press Writer
Thu Nov 2, 3:25 PM ET

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil - The flight recorder transcript from the executive jet involved in Brazil’s worst air disaster shows its American pilots were told by air traffic control to fly at the same altitude as a Boeing 737 before the planes collided over the Amazon rainforest, a newspaper reported Thursday.

Pilot Joseph Lepore was told by the tower in Sao Jose dos Campos to maintain an altitude of 37,000 feet as he flew the jet beyond Brasilia on a northwest path to Manaus, the Folha de S. Paulo quoted the transcript as saying.

That altitude contradicted the pilots’ filed flight plan as well as established norms, which reserve odd-numbered altitudes for southbound flights…

That part of the article is incorrect, it’s odd numbered altitudes from 0-179 degrees and even for 180-359 degrees. Basically odd east and even west. South has nothing to do with it.
Although I did just now learn something new, IFR flights in the UK while not in controlled airspace don’t use the hemisphere rule, they use the quadrantal rule:
Track 000 to 089 - odd thousands of feet (FL 70, 90, 110 etc)
Track 090 to 179 - odd thousands + 500 (FL 75, 95, 115 etc)
Track 180 to 269 - even thousands of feet (FL 80, 100, 120 etc)
Track 270 to 359 - even thousands + 500 (FL 85, 105, 125 etc)