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Brazil finds no mechanical issue in plane crash that killed judge

By
Andrew V. Pestano
Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki died in a plane crash Thursday night when the small plane he was in crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Foul play was immediately suspected by many because of Zavascki's role in the Operation Carwash corruption probe, which already has brought down several high-ranking officials in the Brazilian government. File Photo by Fernando Bizerra Jr./EPA
Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki died in a plane crash Thursday night when the small plane he was in crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Rio de Janeiro. Foul play was immediately suspected by many because of Zavascki's role in the Operation Carwash corruption probe, which already has brought down several high-ranking officials in the Brazilian government. File Photo by Fernando Bizerra Jr./EPA

Jan. 25 (UPI) -- The Brazilian Air Force said a plane that crashed, killing Brazilian Supreme Court Justice Teori Zavascki and four others, did not have mechanical problems.

In a statement, the Brazilian Air Force said a preliminary analysis did not reveal "any abnormality" in the airplane's systems. Zavascki, 68, was killed when the Beechcraft King Air C90 went down in the Atlantic Ocean just off the coast of Brazil between São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro on Thursday night.

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Authorities said a review of communications by the pilot suggested there was no sense of panic inside the cockpit of the aircraft, which crashed during heavy rain, clouds and lightning. The pilot, Osmar Rodrigues, made two attempts to land.

Rodrigues told other pilots in the area he would wait for rain to subside before attempting to land again. No distress signal was issued before communications ceased.

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Jorge Barros, a pilot who also works as a consultant, told Jornal O Globo that Rodrigues may have crashed due to spatial disorientation, the inability for a person to determine his or her position in a surrounding space.

Barros said weather conditions at nighttime while flying near the ocean may have caused Barros to lose his bearings.

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"When you look out from the aircraft and see the clouds and the sea, one glued to the other, with almost the same colors, you do not know what is cloud or sea," Barros said.

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Zavascki, appointed to the Court in 2012 by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, was known for making bold moves against government corruption. Some Brazilians suspected foul play after the crash due to Zavascki's anti-corruption efforts.

Acting President Michel Temer declared three days of national mourning to honor Zavascki as a "modest tribute to someone who has served the judiciary, the courts and the Brazilian people so well."

Zavascki was involved in Operation Carwash, an investigation that centered around billions of dollars in bribes paid to Petrobras for hiring specific construction firms at much higher rates than necessary.

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Stephen Feller contributed to this report.

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