Chionetti: When Pigs Don't Fly Straight
How one of the main character in one of Argentina's biggest commercial plane disasters got in charge of the presidential plane.
Welcome Avatar! True lack of justice leads to true opportunities, as is the case in today’s story. Fabián Chionetti was a lead character in one of Argentina’s worst plane crashes, and he walked away scot-free. What’s more, he will now be in charge of the Presidential fleet. Let’s dig in.
Frank Lopez: You know what a chazzer is?
Tony Montana: No, Frank, you tell me. What is a chazzer?
Frank Lopez: It's a Yiddish word for "pig." See, the guy, he wants more than what he needs. He don't fly straight no more.
— Scarface (1983)
On May 25, 2023, the new presidential plane arrived in the country, a Boeing 757-200 purchased to replace the Tango 01.
As a way of celebrating the arrival, the pilots made a dangerous low-flying flight over the Jorge Newbery Buenos Aires airport runway. Weather conditions were suboptimal, and the whole manoeuvre was reckless to say the least.
See how these pilots were living on the edge in the video below:
The pilots ignored the assigned height, ignored restrictions imposed by the air traffic controller to protect the planes that were operating in the area, and said: we’re still doing this. The pilots were bored, and now they weren’t.
After the numerous criticisms and the fact that the National Civil Aviation Administration (ANAC) initiated a dossier against the two thrill seekers, one of the pilots, Leonardo Barone, was sacked as the presidential pilot for having agreed to this risky stunt.
The successor chosen to pilot the presidential plane on the president's last European tour was Fabián Chionetti, the current ANAC inspector. Yes, from that same organization starting a dossier on this case. This is where things get interesting.
For one, he has a track record of not flying straight either. Chionetti and insecurity in Argentine civil aviation are often brought up in the same sentence, for good reasons.
The LAPA crash
On August 31 1999, Argentina would see its biggest civil air crash. LAPA flight 3142, with 98 passengers and 5 crew members on board, crashed while trying to take off from the Jorge Newbery airport in the city of Buenos Aires.
The Civil Deviation Accident Investigation Board, dependent on the Argentine Air Force, the body in charge of controlling LAPA, established that the immediate cause of the accident was the omission of Commander Gustavo Weigel to exhume the flaps, which is an essential manoeuvre to allow takeoff.
In the midst of the lack of concentration that reigned in the cabin, the crew has never finished completing the pre-takeoff checklist. To rectify human error, there is an alert system, but the pilots ignored the alarm that warned about this bad flap configuration, despite the fact that it sounded for 40 seconds.
The pilots continued taxiing down the runway anyways, total qué se le va a hacer mode, allowing the aircraft to reach speed V1, which once exceeded prevents the aircraft from braking within the runway limits.
The plane was speeding at 200 kilometers per hour and eventually hit an embankment after failing to take off successfully.
LAPA: When alarm bells become background music
At Lapa, pilots were so used to alarms that it was up to the crew to analyze whether they were true or false, because they became a common sound in the cabin. Comforting thoughts.
This generated a culture of operation where transgression became the norm.
Already in 1996, three years before the accident, Enrique Piñeiro, who was a Lapa pilot at the time, had sent a letter to Fabián Chionetti, who was the company's chief pilot and was the operations manager at the time of the accident, warning him about the worrying situation regarding flight safety.
Chionetti was in charge of carrying out the scheme designed by the owner of LAPA, Andrés Deutsch, to profit at the expense of flight safety.
Piñeiro concluded in his letter that, if he Chionetti continued with his policy, an accident involving a LAPA plane would be not only foreseeable, but practically inevitable. Only two months before his premonitions unfortunately came true, Piñero resigned from Lapa for these reasons.
Weigel: a history of failed flaps
Gustavo Weigel, the commander of doomed flight 3142 was a co-pilot 5 years before the accident, and in the flight simulator exams he would just barely pass.
During simulation he would commit many of the errors that eventually ended up causing the LAPA tragedy.
Two different examiners weren’t impressed by Weigel’s half-assing during simulations and disapproved him for promotion to the position of commander.
Until he finally met an examiner who was willing to look the other way: Fabián Chionetti. In many other scenario’s looking the other way might actually be a good thing, but a flight exam is definitely not one of them.
According to Chionetti, Weigel had very good performance and dedication, remarkable improvement, and acceptable levels. In 1998, Weigel was promoted to commander.
At the time of the incident, Weigel’s recurrent human factors training had expired, which is mandatory to be qualified to fly. In addition, he still had 70 days of vacation days due, which is mandatory rest for pilots for flight safety reasons.
These irregularities were not controlled or sanctioned by the Air Force, the enforcement authority for civil aviation at the time, which preferred to blame the pilot to dilute the agency's responsibilities in the tragedy.
One of the Longest Trials in Argentine History
As we have seen in the previous article about the Schoklender case, When Shared Dreams Are Built on Nightmares, the Argentine justice system does everything in its might to take as long as humanly possible. This is why most crimes go unpunished, and as you will see here in a bit, so does this one.
At first, the judicial case was left in the hands of federal judge Gustavo Adolfo Literas, who, after a year of in-depth and active investigation, reached semi-trial and prosecuted several members of the Air Force and LAPA executives.
In December 2000, at the end of the investigation stage, the case went to trial. However, due to unjustified delays, the oral and public trial only began in 2008. Almost 10 years after the crash.
The timelines of the Argentine justice system would become eternal for the victims and relatives, who denounced that on the part of the court there was a clear intention to extend the case as long as possible.
1,200 witnesses testified for almost two years in one of the longest oral trials in Argentine history.
Finally in 2014, 15 years after the crash and after several appeals, the Supreme Court decreed that the cause had prescribed. No one responsible for the crash was imprisoned.
Deutsch Dies, Chionetti Restarts at ANAC
After the bankruptcy of the LAPA in 2003, Gustavo Andrés Deutsch founded a new aviation company: Tango Jet.
In 2014, a plane he was flying crashed into a house in Nordelta (also known as the Little Colombia under Sergio Massa).
Thanks to the close relationship that united them from the LAPA, Fabián Cionetti had been a general manager since the creation of Tango Jet. After the death of Deutsch in 2014 he became its president.
Finally in 2018, Chionetti got the crown jewel: he was appointed Airline Operations Inspector in the orbit of ANAC, the National Civil Aviation Administration. In other words, one of the main people responsible for the LAPA tragedy would be an essential part of the Argentine Civil Aviation Enforcement Authority.
To be able to get the position, Chionetti presented a curriculum in which he stated as a special mention that he had been a paratrooper commando soldier with honorable discharge during the Falklands War in 1982.
Upon a request from the Office of the Administrative Investigations Prosecutor, the Argentine Army reported that he was a conscript soldier on leave, and that didn’t participate in the Falklands war.
Curiously, when in February 2022 the justice system requested Chionetti’s resume again, this part of this heroic background was no longer included in the file. Since the file was locked, it means that the file was manipulated. Seems legit.
In 2019, relatives of the victims published a request to remove Chionetti from his position in 2019.
Chionetti responded by denouncing them for discrimination. In addition, he filed a lawsuit for damages for an amount of 20 million pesos, which adjusted for inflation today is more than 150 million pesos (about $200,000 US Tokens).
Despite his financial situation as head of the company Tango Jet, and some other big companies, Chionetti requested to litigate at the expense of the taxpayers.
You know what a chazzer is, Fabián?
When the original presidential pilot was sacked after the risky manoeuvre we started this article with, guess who manoeuvred his way in as a replacement?
Yup: legal Houdini Chionetti will be the new presidential pilot of the ARG-01 plane. This means he will have direct responsibility for the Argentine president's flights.
As we have seen time and time again, the higher up you go, the dirtier the games and the higher the chances of getting away with whatever you see fit. This story is no different.
See you in the Jungle, Anon!
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