Less than one year after the collision on September 29, 2006, of a Boeing 737 with a Legacy executive jet over the Brazilian Amazon, which left 154 people aboard the Boeing dead and became Brazil's deadliest air accident Brazilians are once again facing a big tragedy. We still don't know how many people died, but they will for sure surpass 200.
Brazil's worst air accident ever just happened last night when an Airbus A320 from TAM airlines coming from Porto Alegre in the south of the country burst into flames with 176 people aboard after trying to land in a rained down Congonhas airport close to downtown São Paulo.
As many people are now saying Congonhas was just a tragedy waiting to happen for months and years. Everybody knew the place was a dangerous trap but it was convenient for everybody, authorities, airlines and public that it continued to operate.
"Turn around! Turn around! Turn around!" These were the insistent appeals and the last words uttered by the Airbus's pilot and heard by the air controllers at the Congonhas control tower. The pilot seemed to have lost control of the plane on the wet runaway while trying to land under the rain.
The aircraft skidded off the air strip, crossed a busy avenue close to the airport and crashed against a warehouse and a gas station on the other side of the road. It was about 6:45 pm.
According to authorities investigating the accident it didn't take more than a few seconds between the landing and the crash followed by the explosion that consumed the plane.
Initial reports indicate that the jet's commander was informed by the tower that the runaway was wet and slippery. Everything seemed to be under control, however, after the landing. So much so that the air controllers had already authorized the next plane in line to also come down.
It's believed now that the aircraft collided with the building at about 110 miles an hour, a speed suggesting that the pilot had tried to take off again after having noticed that the landing hadn't been successful.
The Fire Department used 50 teams to control the fire caused by the plane collision. The flames were extinguished around 9:15 pm. The rescue effort had to be interrupted soon after 10:30 pm when a wall hit by the jet collapsed. According to a fireman who helped to put out the fire the airplane was completely destroyed.
By 4 am, this Wednesday, at least 56 bodies had already been rescued.Â Thirty three of them were not burned. Some airplane passengers, apparently, were thrown from the plane during the impact .with the building. Many of the victims were on the ground. Among the dead are pedestrians, motorists and airport workers.
House representative Julio Redecker, from Rio Grande do Sul, was among those aboard the Airbus. His party, the PSDB, released a note in which it regrets his death and accuses the federal government of negligence: "For months," says the note, "our party has been denouncing the well-known problems that affect air traffic and the country's main airports and demanding solutions from the authorities."
Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva has scrapped all his scheduled commitments until the end of the week to dedicate his time entirely to the accident's aftermath.
Among the questions being raised by the Brazilian public and press is why Congonhas was opened to larger planes while some remodeling work was still being done to the runaways. The airstrip, for example, should get grooves, which help bigger planes to better adhere to the runway, but this job wasn't scheduled to start before July 25.
Was there excessive water on the runway? It rained a lot in São Paulo on Tuesday. To avoid accidents Congonhas usually forbids all landings and take offs when the water reaches 3 mm. How high was the water when the accident occurred?
For aviation consultant Gianfranco Betting, opening the airport to airplanes before the grooving was on, can be considered a criminal act: "Infraero (Brazil's airport authorities) must be blamed by this collective murder."
The fact that Congonhas is surrounded by building makes the grooving's extra security even more important: "We have no room for mistakes there.".