RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – A Brazilian court ordered police to seize the passports of two U.S. pilots whose executive jet clipped a commercial plane in midair last week shortly before the larger aircraft crashed, killing all 155 people onboard, a spokeswoman said.
Meanwhile, a Brazilian newspaper reported on Tuesday that the Brazilian-made Legacy executive jet, which was carrying seven Americans, disobeyed an order by the control tower to descend to a lower altitude just before coming into contact with Gol airlines Flight 1907.
The daily O Globo paper said the Legacy flew at 37,000 feet to the capital Brasilia, but then ignored an order to descend to 36,000 feet to continue its flight to the Amazon city of Manaus. The Gol jetliner was flying at 37,000 feet from Manaus to Brasilia en route to Rio de Janeiro.
The executive jet was damaged but landed safely at a nearby air force base.
A judge in Mato Grosso state, where the Gol plane crashed deep in the Amazon jungle, ordered police to seize the passports of Legacy pilot Joseph Lepore and co-pilot Jan Palladino "as a result of the doubts surrounding the case and the emergence of indications that the accident was caused by the Legacy," state Justice Department spokeswoman Maria Barbant said.
She said the two were not arrested but "just prevented from leaving the country, at least until we know exactly what happened."
The pilots, who have been questioned by Mato Grosso investigators, were brought to Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday for routine physical tests. They were not injured in the incident.
The Legacy had been making its inaugural flight to the United States, where it had been purchased by an American company, said its manufacturer, Embraer.
Air force commander Gen. Luis Carlos Bueno also said the Gol flight, a brand-new Boeing 737-800, had a flight plan for 37,000 feet and the Legacy jet was authorized to fly at 36,000 feet, according to an interview Tuesday with Brazil's government news service Agencia Brasil.
He said neither plane was authorized to deviate from the plans. He said only an investigation of the planes' black boxes could clarify the cause of the accident.
Neither the air force nor the National Civil Aviation Agency would comment to The Associated Press on the reports.
Christine Negroni, an investigator for the aviation law firm Kreindler & Kreindler of New York, said in an e-mail that under international guidelines, westbound planes are supposed to fly at even-numbered altitudes, and eastbound planes at odd-numbered altitudes, as measured in feet.
"Since the American pilots were flying northwest, they should not have been at 37,000 feet since that's odd," she said.
Investigators began examining voice and data recorders recovered from the jetliner Tuesday, but the National Civil Aviation Agency said one of the voice recorders was missing a database.
"This unit is essential for analysis," the agency said on its Web site. It said military units were searching for the missing parts.
Investigators will also question why the pilots weren't alerted by special on-board equipment designed to avoid collisions. The air force said both jets were equipped with a Traffic Collision Avoidance System, or TCAS, which sets off an alarm if other planes get too close.
The Gol plane crashed deep in the Amazon jungle near Peixoto de Azevedo in Mato Grosso state, some 1,100 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro, killing all 149 passengers and six crew members.
Among the dead was U.S. citizen Douglas Hancock, 35, of Missouri. He was in Mato Grosso for business and was returning to Rio de Janeiro where he lived, his father, Paul Hancock, told the Southeast Missourian newspaper.