A Brazilian appeals court upheld the guilty verdict against two American pilots on Monday for their involvement in the fatal crash of a Boeing 737 that killed 154 people in 2006, but denied prosecutors’ arguments that the men should serve time in prison.
After receiving the guilty verdict last year, the two men were sentenced to four years in prison, which was then converted to community service in the United States. Prosecutors appealed the ruling on the belief that the men should serve real time due to the severity of the crash, which occurred when the Goll 737 and an Embraer Legacy bizjet piloted by the two Americans collided at 37,000 feet while flying over Mato Grosso. Although the Embraer bizjet managed to land safely with no injuries to the seven individuals aboard, the 737 suffered irrecoverable damage, breaking apart in flight and killing all 154 crew and passengers.
Despite the guilty verdict last year, the causes of what was at the time Brazil’s most deadly air disaster have been a source of deep debate, one resulting in starkly different analysis from American and Brazilian authorities. While the NTSB cited Brazilian air traffic controllers for putting the two airplanes on a collision course, a Brazilian military report said the American pilots contributed to the crash because they failed to confirm that their transponder was working.
The new ruling issued on Monday said the American pilots – who have not been in Brazil since a few months after the crash – do not have to complete community service. They also shortened the pilots’ sentences by 11 months, saying they could serve the time under a Brazilian policy that would allow them to do so without ever actually going to prison.
Prosecutors are expected to further appeal the ruling.