Search for Bodies of Brazilian Jet Is Slow and Painful: Only Two Bodies Recovered

There were no survivors among the 155 people aboard the Brazilian jetliner that collided with a smaller plane and crashed in the Amazon rain forest in the nation’s worst air disaster, authorities said.

Aviation officials confirmed late Sunday that the Boeing 737-800 and an executive jet clipped each other in midair Friday, causing Gol airlines Flight 1907 to crash in jungle so dense that crews had to cut down trees to clear a space for rescue helicopters to land. The smaller plane carrying Americans landed safely at a nearby air force base.

Denise Abreu, director of Brazil’s Civil Aviation Agency, told the government news service Agência Brasil that after analyzing the flight data recorder of the executive jet, "what we can affirm is that there was a collision."

The Brazilian air force said in a statement that rescue workers had combed through the wreckage and found no signs that anyone could have survived the crash. Workers had recovered two bodies by Sunday night and airlifted them out by helicopter, the statement said.

Some 30 Brazilian air force troops were staying to search for bodies and inspect the wreckage throughout the night; about 80 have been at the site during the day.

Gol airlines, which operated the flight, confirmed there were no survivors in its own release. The list of passengers was released, but Gol said it wasn’t clear whether any non-Brazilians were aboard.

The death toll surpassed that of Brazil’s previous worst air disaster: the 1982 crash of a Boeing 727 operated by the now-defunct Vasp airline in the northeastern city of Fortaleza that killed 137 people.

Globo news agency said Sunday that police questioned the seven passengers and crew aboard the executive jet, which had been headed to the United States. The passengers, all Americans, included Joe Sharkey, a journalist for The New York Times.

The seven said they felt a bump, the plane shook and the pilot took manual control for the landing, Globo reported.

The New York Times reported that Sharkey sent an e-mail to his wife saying: "Neither of the pilots can understand how a 737 could have hit us without them seeing it."

But National Civil Aviation Agency general director Milton Zuanazzi said Sunday that at airspeeds of hundreds of miles per hour (kilometers per hour), that was possible.

"They said they didn’t see anything. But this is absolutely normal. … In these conditions, you only a see a shadow and a noise," said Zuanazzi.  

Officials have said the investigation into the crash could take at least three months.

Célio Wilson de Oliveira, the Mato Grosso state Secretary of Justice and Public Safety, said the plane crashed near a reservation of the Kayapó Capoto-Jarina Indians in Xingu Park, and Indians with machetes had hacked a path through the jungle toward the crash site.

"It’s extremely difficult to get there," said Ademir Ribeiro, a foreman on the nearby Jarina ranch, the center for rescue operations. The ranch was located in the central state of Mato Grosso, some 1,090 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.

It was the first major disaster for Gol, a Brazilian airline that took to the skies in 2001 with six Boeing 737s, serving seven Brazilian cities and became the second largest Brazilian airline in five years.

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