Brazil air controller sentenced in 2006 crash case

SAO PAULO Fri May 20, 2011 11:39am BST

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SAO PAULO (Reuters) - A Brazilian federal court on Thursday convicted one air traffic controller and acquitted another for their role in the crash of a domestic airliner over the Amazon rain forest that killed 154 people in 2006.

Judge Murilo Mendes of the state of Mato Grosso convicted air traffic controller Lucivando Tiburcio de Alencar to a term of up to three years and four months but ruled he is eligible to do community service in Brazil instead.

He will not be allowed to work as an air controller through the period of his conviction, the court said in a statement.

Air controller Jomarcelo Fernandes dos Santos was acquitted on charges of harming Brazil's air transport and security.

Efforts by Reuters to contact both controllers to comment on the decision were unsuccessful.

The conviction is related to Alencar's role in the September 2006 crash of a small business jet, which clipped wings with a Boeing 737 operated by Brazilian airline Gol (GOLL4.SA) (GOL.N), causing the airliner to plunge into the jungle in one of Brazil's worst air disasters.

This week, the same judge convicted Joseph Lepore and Jan Paul Paladino, who were flying the business jet, to a four-year sentence, but suspended it for community service in the United States. Both pilots are American nationals.

Brazilian officials harshly criticized the U.S. pilots and Brazilian air controllers in the first few weeks after the crash, but a preliminary report in 2006 by the Brazilian Air Force said both aircraft had been cleared to fly at 37,000 feet (11,000 meters).

Attention later shifted toward the complaints of air traffic controllers over excessive workloads, low pay and blind spots in radar coverage. Controllers staged repeated strikes to protest the allegations, causing delays in service that led air traffic to nearly collapse in early 2007. (Reporting by Guillermo Parra-Bernal and Bruno Marfinati; editing by Todd Eastham)