Ex-head of Cenipa argues that FAB should stop investigating civilian accidents Jorge Kersul headed organ that investigated Gol, TAM and Air France cases.
Investigating aviation accidents 'doesn't bring popularity and is a job that nobody wants," he says.
Tahiane Stochero of G1, in Brasília
Brigadier Jorge Kersul Filho, who until 2010 headed all aviation accident investigations in Brazil, for the first time tells in detail what he saw and what he took into account during the Gol, TAM and Air France tragedies, which in a short period - from 2006 to 2009 - together caused 558 deaths.
In his first interview since leaving the command of the Center for Investigation and Prevention of Aeronautical Accidents (Cenipa) in April of 2010, Kersul defended in an exclusive interview with G1, the creation of a new agency to investigate airline tragedies. This time, out of the military's hands.
See to left segments of the interview in which Kersul recalls what he underwent in Gol, TAM and Air France accidents.
"The investigation of civil aviation accidents should leave the Brazilian Air Force [FAB]. This is a burden that nobody wants, that brings no benefits, brings no positive publicity, and has no reason to remain with the FAB. We will continue doing it well and independently while the obligation is ours, no matter who it hurts. The FAB should take care of the FAB itself, so that we really become a country that demands respect", said Kersul, in an interview at his home in Brasilia.
Under the proposal, an agency would be created for the prevention and investigation of commercial civil aviation accidents employing ex-military personnel who have already served in Cenipa and which could, at first, train personnel qualified to continue the work. "I do not think the military should continue with this responsibility. When I was at Cenipa, we made a proposal to create this agency so that the task would leave the FAB command. The idea went to the Ministry of Defense and should still be there", says the officer.
For him, hierarchical distinctions disrupt the relationship between the agencies that work in today's aviation system, and are the main reason why the investigation of civil aviation tragedies should no longer be Cenipa's task.
"Until the last decade, everything related to aviation in the country was in the Air Force Ministry. The Brazilian State pulled a Civil Aviation Agency, ANAC, out of its hat. Infraero (the company that manages the airports) also went out from under the Air Force. The Secretariat of Aviation was created, with ministerial status, while Cenipa is an agency within the FAB Command which is subordinated to the Ministry of Defense. There is a structural difference that creates a conflict", he says.
Kersul entered the reserves in April, at his own request. He left the Air Force taking with him memories of the difficulties faced in the removal from the jungle of the bodies of 154 victims of a Gol Boeing, which crashed in Mato Grosso in 2006, the search for the black boxes of a TAM Airbus, which exploded on leaving the runway at Congonhas (SP), leaving 176 dead in 2007 [sic, may mean "all 176 aboard"], and the task of locating another Airbus, this time Air France's, which disappeared in the sea in 2009, with 228 people aboard.
"To receive the news of a major accident is really a very unpleasant feeling, the worst nightmare of those who work at Cenipa. You have to stay calm, breathe deeply and think fast, to do what must be done", he says.
The officer says that he "is persecuted" by relatives of victims of Gol Flight 1907, who accuse him of the alleged disappearance of belongings in the forest and to have delivered parts of the Legacy to the company after examination. He says he followed the law and the devolution of the parts only occurred three years after the collision, because nobody wanted the equipment. "The data have been preserved," the general affirmed.
"When an accident occurs, the one who will be punished and criticized is the one responsible for the investigating agency and responsible for the recovery, who spent 50 days in the jungle looking for all the bodies? And I ask myself: was it worth it? In the end, I still say it was worth it (the work). "
Kersul says the decision to leave the Air Force came after a career evaluation, taking into account his family and what he had done as a soldier.
"I did a survey of my life and decided I should seek other paths. I looked at factors that could contribute to my continuing or not (in the FAB), such as age, life expectancy, desires, aviation, which I always liked. I had 40 years in a military career, and I accept that. I did not fight with anyone and I'm not leaving the Air Force, just leaving active service", he explains.
Accusations in the Gol tragedy
Of the three accidents, the Gol is the one that most affected him, especially because a relative accused the Air Force of the disappearance of a victim's cell phone. According to Kersul, the relative told him that the phone came into the hands of a person who repairs phones in Rio de Janeiro, two days after the tragedy. In the relative's version, the phone had been diverted by an Air Force soldier.
"I commanded the search for bodies in the jungle until the last one was found: Mr. Marcelo Paixão, who was in seat 17C. We had already removed them all and only he was missing. I insisted to the morgue that he should be there, but had not yet been identified. Despite having been advised that it was not our duty, by my order, until we found the last body, we would collect objects that we found in front of us. But this was not our obligation", he recalls.
Of the approximately 7,000 kg aboard, about 1,650 kg were removed from the jungle. "The Air Force was there to rescue bodies. Cargo is the airline's responsibility. Unfortunately, some of the relatives demanded this of us and don't remember what we did for them. Those who know the Amazon understand the difficulties. It is hard to go through what we went through and see the work trashed", he says.
During the "Aviation Blackout" CPI [Parliamentary Commission of Inquiry] in 2007, Kersul cried when he was accused of having diverted victims' belongings. He says he asked Air Force Intelligence to investigate the case but, as the relatives did not provide information, the investigation could not be carried forward.
"How can you do an investigation if you have nothing tangible to begin with. Today I am accused of failing to open an administrative proceeding. We had our hands tied (at the time). "
For the general, no airman "was there to steal or to loot the bodies." "I will always argue that none of us ever took part in it. Nobody came out of the jungle until 10 days after the crash. It's impossible for this cell phone to be in Rio two days later. This phone is a mystery to me. Could the phone really have been taken aboard this plane?"
In the CPI, another relative asked him why a credit card was missing from a victim's wallet. "I could not explain it to her in the same way that I cannot explain how, in a tree 40 meters high, there was only a pair of pants hanging with a working phone inside. I also cannot explain how two planes manage to meet at 11,000 meters in an airway with little movement", he complained.
"If we were to imagine a collision in flight, it would never be over the Amazon in an airway with normal traffic, with two new aircraft, with only a few flight hours on them, and very close to perfection in terms of construction," he adds.
Who was wrong, then? Blame it on the Legacy pilots, who turned off the transponder (localizer) and did not avoid the collision? "There is no responsible actor, or even who or what that was wrong. In investigation, we work with contributing factors. There is a sequence of events leading to the accident because there was no barrier strong enough to prevent this it from being broken [sic]", he says.
For Kersul, the Legacy's crew did not intentionally put the transponder in "stand-by" (waiting position). "At some point the transponder went into this position, placed intentionally or unintentionally, and returned to normal operation immediately after the collision." He recalls a phrase of the Legacy's own crew on turning the transponder back on soon after a collision with the Gol Boeing: "It's asking too much of the transponder that it work if it's in standby."
The general said that Americans could see on the screen in more than one place, that the transponder was turned off. "And that was not observed by them."
The officer also points out an flaw in air traffic control, which "failed to observe on the radar that it had ceased to receive the information from the transponder" and could have called the pilots to see if there was some problem with the instrument.
Collision at Congonhas
The general recalls that Cenipa predicted that an accident could occur at Congonhas months before the tragedy of TAM JJ 3054.
After receiving several reports of aircraft that almost left the runway, he convened a meeting with airlines and agencies involved in the operation of the airport, in Brasilia, the week between Christmas and New Year 2006, after the Gol accident.
"We warned at the meeting that we had a scenario that an accident would occur at Congonhas and we restricted operations," he recalls.
The runway was renovated, and was freed for use, but continued to be slippery with water puddles forming and a risk of slippage, according to risk reports made by pilots at the time.
"When the accident occurred, we were doubly frustrated. We believed that we had managed to avoid an accident involving the runway, yet even so the accident occurred after the renovation, without direct involvement of the runway", he says. "Imagine how sad this was for all of us."
According to Kersul, although one of the throttles was maintained in the acceleration position during landing (as was recorded by the black boxes), the runway may have contributed as a psychological factor and also for the "exacerbation" of the case.
"Congonhas is really an aircraft carrier inside the city. Other accidents of this nature had not so tragic an end because the aircraft stopped in mud or in a field. But in all the simulations done, if all the factors were maintained, that aircraft would have left the runway at any airport."
Kersul remembers that when the Air France Airbus disappeared in the Atlantic Ocean, the Air Force began the work of search and localization until the accident, which left 228 dead on June 1, 2009, was confirmed. Despite criticism from relatives that Brazil had only an auxiliary role in the case, he said that Brazil complied with international law that states that, if the aircraft crashes in international waters, "the responsibility to investigate the case lies with the operator, the manufacturer and the country of the aircraft's flag. In this case, all these pointed to France."
“Brazil did not have the role of main actor or co-star, but had the participation that fell to it, including the investigation in Recife, collecting the initial information for France. We are doing what is our part under international law. The French State is responsible for conducting this investigation", he says.
After all the tragedies that he followed, he argues that the country needs a law so that the information obtained by the investigation not be used in the courts for purposes of criminal or civil liability, such as the quest for reparations. On Wednesday (27), an event with family members of victims of air accidents, Cenipa investigators, judges and prosecutors in São Paulo will discuss a bill that deals with the issue.
"Cenipa's investigation is for prevention. We do not agree with our reports being used for legal purposes. It is a difficult problem, that people do not understand, but the damage is huge, because those involved fail to cooperate because of the fear that what they tell us, may be used against them", he says.
"Nobody wants Cenipa's report to be secret. We just ask that it not be used in trials. Our investigation is impartial with the sole aim of preventing further accidents. It's the police investigation that has to determine responsibilities and find culprits and should be used in court, not ours", he responds.