RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) – ExcelAire said faulty Brazilian air traffic control was to blame for a middair collision between one of the Long Island company’s executive jets and a commercial airliner that killed 154 people in Brazil’s deadliest air disaster.

The Gol airlines Boeing 737 and an ExcelAire Legacy 600 jet clipped each other Sept. 29 over the Amazon jungle. The Gol airlines jet crashed, killing all aboard, and the Legacy jet landed safely.

In a 154-page report to Brazilian federal police this month – released Saturday to The Associated Press – Ronkonkoma, N.Y.-based ExcelAire said an analysis of air traffic control transmissions and the black boxes in the Legacy “confirmed that both planes were freed by Air Traffic Control to fly at the same altitude and the same path, in opposite directions.”

Brazilian officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.

Brazilian investigators say the controllers bear some responsibility for the crash but Defense Minister Waldir Pires recently defended Brazil’s air traffic control system as one of the safest in the world.

Pires suggested the collision was the fault of the ExcelAire jet’s pilots – both Long Island residents – because the Legacy’s transponder, which operates the aircraft’s anti-collision system, was not turned on or malfunctioned.

Family members of those killed in the crash have filed lawsuits in federal court in Miami seeking millions of dollars in damages. They claim the Legacy pilots did not maintain proper altitude or properly communicate with Brazilian air traffic controllers.

ExcelAire’s report also said there were problems with some of the equipment aboard the Legacy, made by Brazilian manufacturer Embraer.

“An avionics component, where some radio communications systems and one of the transponders are installed, was returned to Honeywell (Honeywell International Inc.), the manufacturer, in April 2006 because of operational problems,” the report said.

“Despite the functional problems verified in these components … Embraer decided to install them in the Legacy sold to ExcelAire,” it said.

The Legacy was flying from the southern city of Sao Jose dos Campos to the United States when the accident occurred at 37,000 feet, an altitude usually reserved for flights headed in the opposite direction.

Legacy pilots Joseph Lepore and Jan Paladino were accused by police of exposing an aircraft to danger. They have agreed to return to Brazil to face any criminal charges.

AP-ES-04-21-07 1713EDT

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