Aviation Expert Blames Authorities for Brazil’s Worst Air Accident Ever

Firemen control Airbus fire 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.  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.".


  • Show Comments (18)

  • No Name

    Not Again!
    Wow! Oh my god. This is terrible. I flew into that airport last year. I was amazed by how close everything was to it. I have never seen that before and I have flown into alot of places. What the heck is Brazil going to do now? What the hell is Brazil’s government going to do? I really hope that the focus shifts to action instead of reaction. Those poor people. My heart goes out! Pires, Lula, congress, you assholes! I hope your all on the next one. Your worst nightmare just happened and once again innocent people had to pay for your fucked-upness!

  • João da Silva

    To abort a landing you do need a long Runway
    [quote]With a short runway if you don’t set down within the 1st 1000 ft the pilot has only a second or two to decide to make a go round and then if the runway is like a skating rink the aircraft can’t get enough traction to reach lift off speed.[/quote]

    You are absolutely right. Years ago, I took a flight from Recife to Rio to get my connection to the South. A few minutes before landing in GaleÀƒ£o,we got into a torrential rain storm and as we were about to land,it got worse. The Varig pilot tried to land and could not.He aborted the attempt and took off again to circle around the city for about an hour. He was quite cool about the whole thing and cheerfully explaing the important land marks of the city and (and at the same time apologizing for the inconvenience caused ) giving us the technical reasons for aborting the landing.

    I did miss the connecting flight,but Varig put me in a later flight. That experience reinforced my view about the necessasity to have a long runway at an airport and ALSO to avoid CONGONHAS

  • doggydaddy

    Go Around?
    Congonhas is not an ideal airport for go arounds. With a short runway if you don’t set down within the 1st 1000 ft the pilot has only a second or two to decide to make a go round and then if the runway is like a skating rink the aircraft can’t get enough traction to reach lift off speed. As I said,” an accident waiting to happen”. Brazilians should boycott the airport and insist that the airlines only use Cumbica or Via Corps until the runways are fixed. There is also a military airport inside the city that could be used for commerical flights.it now accepts general aviation and private jets.I also was reading about the soft concrete concept that acts as a braking system, as soon as an aircraft hits the surface the concrete goes to a mush, breaks up into pieces, like the sand stops on the mountain highways to the States that help to stop run away trucks.

  • Simpleton

    So um vez
    I’ve been lucky wrt take-offs and landings – successful pair of each every time so far.

    WRT Congonhas I’ve only seen that layout on paper and simulation (charts curtesy of FAB and emulation curtesy of MSoft Flight Simulator 2004 with custom crafted 737 variant integrated with full real deal 6×8 format EFIS primary flight display and nav display all coupled with a PC based part task trainer FMS emulation with on screen CDU – with the joy stick uncalibrated only a retired AMX pilot put it down reasonably on center and short of the end of the runway – that guy was one incredible cool handed instrument especialista). My one direct experience with CGH in broad daylight, perfect weather and something pleasingly distracting across the aisle from me left me feeling OMG’ish – hope I never have to land here in something other than a helo.

    BTW – I was just beating Peres to the punch line he now has the education and horse sense not to say – clearly this will prove to be pilot error and the ATC on both ends had absolutely nothing to do with it (other than possibly not watching close enough and singing out loud enough when something wasn’t right). I’ll wait for the facts on the physics.

  • João da Silva

    [quote]Defense Minister Waldir Pires warned people not to point fingers.

    “It’s a moment for caution, and until the results of the investigation are known, it’s better to maintain sobriety and avoid quick judgments,” Pires said.

    A Grandfatherly advice. The kith and kin of those 200 plus victims would certainly listen to him.

    I am waiting for him and Marta Supplicy to console the families with their kind words.

    [quote]We’ll see what the airspeed, wheel speed, steering and brakeing action analysis suggests.

    Simpleton, my buddy, these factors dont matter. There was a big muck up mate,in resurrecting Congonhas.Any right thinking traveler would tell ya that ,it could not take big jets. In case you dont believe me, just scroll up and read the comments of Jay Glenn and our friend, the Admiral. I dont know if you have been watching the Brasilian TV networks,but one of them showed the Pilots hating that airport.

    The least Pires can do is to quit his job and I am sure he wouldnt do it. He will put the blame on Pilot Error.

    My advice is similar to that of PingaÀ‚´s :”Buckle up folks, itÀ‚´s going to be a wild ride over the coming months.”. I am sure what he is talking about!!

  • Simpleton

    Maybe some things have been learned by those whose prior misjudgements / inappropriate acts or statements show their taintedness – Here’s the tune being sung this time:

    Defense Minister Waldir Pires warned people not to point fingers.

    “It’s a moment for caution, and until the results of the investigation are known, it’s better to maintain sobriety and avoid quick judgments,” Pires said.

    – say what???

    Anyway, apparently the A320 type was not on the list of heavies (well, maybe not heavy but sort of bigger) that had been temporarily banned at CGH. Also looks like the crew may have been coming in hot (possibly in consideration of the weather), in which case clearing the perimeter fence but not the buildings suggests a botched go-around for which only the crew can assume culpability. We’ll see what the airspeed, wheel speed, steering and brakeing action analysis suggests.

  • João da Silva

    [quote]Those poor people. My heart goes out![/quote]

    Thanks for the kind words directed to the victims and their families.I appreciated them.

    [quote]Pires, Lula, congress, you a*****es![/quote]

    Thanks for the harsh words that these richly deserve and I am not contesting.

  • madre deus

    By what criteria does a Judge proffer an opinion as to aeronautical issues of safety? And when such an egregious opinion proves to be fatal who is liable for the loss?

  • ch.c.

    What the heck is Brazil going to do now? What the hell is Brazil’s government going to do?
    NOT MUCH, except a lot of promises and money that wont be freed anyway.

    It will be business….as usual !

    Quite shameful ! So is Brazil ! Much More money is stolen through corruption than the annual infrastructure budget of the whole country !!

    LÀƒ¶ok at the annual tens of thousands deaths…..due in part to NO or bad at best……roads !!!

    And infrastructures always reflect the country development !

    Brazil is a THIRD WORLD COUNTRY !

  • doggydaddy

    I live in the south of Brazil and I stopped flying to SP via this airport 3 years ago. I always fly to Cumbica ( the international airport) and then take the airport express coach into Sao Paulo which is about an 45 minute ride. I have never liked Congonhas and everyone knows that lives in Brazil and is a frequent flyer in and out of SP that Congonhas is an accident waiting to happen. I can believe that a higher court overturned the restrictions of larger aircraft using Congonhas until after the runway work and grooves are cut into the runway. It is the Brazilian way. The consumer has no protection…zero…

  • João da Silva

    Expected ,but could have been prevented
    First of all, I would like to express my condolences to the families of those 200 ( ) vitims of this air crash. I also pray that their souls R.I.P.

    Anyone who has been accompanying the air travel crisis during the past months since the GOL 1907 disasterthrough the press ,would have predicted another accident. As Bo and Pinga said correctly that it was written on the wall.All the important newspapers were writing about the problems with the runways in Congonhas and the people in power did not even want to acknowledge that the problems existed. They not only let the large planes to land on short runways,but on the one where the work was not completed.

    I am old enough to remember, that until 30 years ago, the city of S.Paulo did not have an International airport to receive 747s.Dc-10s,etc; The International Airlines used to bring their passengers to Rio or Viracopos in Campinas. In the late 70À‚´s and early 80À‚´s the International Airport at GRU was built.Congonhas should have been disactivated a long time ago, especially after the Fokker 100 crashed while taking off- atleast for large airplanes.

    So what came as a surprise to me was that Congonhas was not only rebuilt,but also upgraded to receive planes like Airbus.Now we have another tragedy that could have been prevented if the Appeal court judge had upheld the ruling of the lower court and our brave Politicians had not been insisting all the time that our sky,equipment and airports are very safe.Yes, indeed they were very safe until a few years ago and now I am no longer sure.It used to be a joy to fly and I do miss those days.

    What next, Dr.Pires?

  • jacob

    Re: Check your conspiracy hyperbole
    [quote]written by Probitas, 2007-07-18 11:33:35
    While the Brasilian ATC system has its well documented shortcomings, it might be a bit early to cast all of the blame there.

    Please… You are so naive. What we have now in Brazil is a complete systemic breakdown…

  • Ric

    What Bo stated is not that the two events could possibly be related, but only the potential for irony.

  • João PInga

    News coverage
    Of course, I like many are glued to this news story. With satellite TV at home, I get a great array of channels. CNN, CNN Espanol, BBC world, FOX, TVE and RW (German).Well, wouldnÀ¢€™t ya know it, as I flipped through the 10 O clock morning newscasts every international channel led with the accident; the only 24 hour news operation that DIDNÀ‚´T was BANDNEWS in BRAZIL which went straight to the Pan games and live coverage of a swim competition. It was followed up by a medal count.

    Are these people for real?

    [quote]I was making an ironic question by wondering if this particular dep**ado voted in favor of the american pilots returning to brazil to be charged with homicide![/quote]

    Bo it was OBVIOUS what you wrote, however here in “OZ” what is obvious to folks like us passing through is not that obvious to the witches and munchkins running amuck in this surrealist created fairy tale (nightmare?). Regardless, weÀ¢€™re not in Kansas any more Toto!

  • bo

    [quote]To tie this to the possible voting record of the dep**ado on board is simply irresponsible.[/quote]

    No one, certainly not I, attempted to tie this accident in with the deputado’s voting record!! I was making an ironic question by wondering if this particular deputado voted in favor of the american pilots returning to brazil to be charged with homicide!

    All of the facts stared them in the face. No human with the sense that god gave a goose could ever attempt and deny the shortcomings of the ATC itself as well as controller error were responsible for the Gol crash. But naturally, if they start investigating Infraero to see where the real problems lie they’re going to uncover a lot of dirty laundry and misappropriated funds!!! So, two gringo’s were flying the other plane??? Ohhh boy!! We’s got us a scapegoat!

    And now?

  • João PInga

    My condolences
    First and foremost, I wish to express my heart-felt condolences to the families whom lost someone to this very tragic and highly avoidable accident. I pass through this airport at least twice a month and know many others who do as well. As much as I feel for the families, IÀ¢€™m relieved that there was no one whom I knew on board.

    Anyone who has flown in or out of Congonhas knows the absurdities of this airport, and when taxiing prior to take off or after coming in from a landing you have the sense that you can literally reach out and touch the neighborhood. Urban planning in SP is like the rest of Brazil, haphazardly thought through, poorly implemented, and unmistakeningly third world. My jaw just dropped in total and utter disbelief the first time I flew into Congonhas. I hope people finally question the airportˢ۪s existence in such a densely populated area.

    That said, Pires will no longer be able to hide his incompetence and lies from the public; heˢ۪ll no longer be able to scapegoat Americans for Brazilˢ۪s aeronautical short-comings, and this will ripple right up to the President of the Republic himself. It is an accident tht has the potential to bring Lula and the PT crashing down (it can be a rocky year folks). This government has known for a long time now, 10 months and counting, that air traffic in Brazil is not only in a serious mess, but is also dangerous (as most experts have been arguing). The decision for the appeals court to over turn a ban on large sized jets was a political one, and one designed to ease congestion that was burdening Brazil and giving Lula an ulcer.

    I would not be surprised in the least if the decision to overturn the ban was made by a judge under DURESS (or cash bribe) from higher political figures. WeÀ¢€™ll know soon enough because this is where the focus is going to start, and whoever took the decision to overturn the ban is not going to want to bear the brunt of this entire accident and will probably (because we know BrazilÀ‚´s motto of À¢€œNÀƒ£o fui euÀ¢€Â) sing like a bird.

    There is also the issue of the incomplete restorations to the runway; again, IÀ¢€™m sure there was political pressure to open the runway while not complete. Bye bye Lula, and Pires should be brought up on charges of negligence causing death.

    Now, I know weÀ¢€™re suppose to be calm and await the investigations out come before screaming for blood, but this accident was in the making for some time. Anyone who has closely followed the case of 1907 knows that this government has been playing Russian roulette with passenger’s lives for political gains. Buckle up folks, itÀ‚´s going to be a wild ride over the coming months.

    The writing was on the wall: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/6337217.stm

  • Probitas

    Check your conspiracy hyperbole
    While the Brasilian ATC system has its well documented shortcomings, it might be a bit early to cast all of the blame there. To tie this to the possible voting record of the deputado on board is simply irresponsible. The fact is, pilots have long hated Congonhas for the reasons cited; tall buildings surrounding the airport and short runways make landing large aircraft there a tricky matter indeed. While it is true that the rain may or may not have been too heavy to land the plane at that time (the article expressly said the amount of rainfall was unknown), that should also be balanced with the violence in the airports surrounding delays at the holiday rush and again during the Pan American games. Caving in to that pressure should not be excused, but neither should creating that pressure in the first place. The flying public is generally far more concerned with convenience, while paying lip service to the importance of safety.

  • bo

    It was only a matter of time…
    I KNEW it was going to happen! After reading and researching, hearing testimony from qualified people in the know concerning the legacy accident, you could see it was going to happen again if immediate changes weren’t made. Not trying to be disrespectful here, but who are the brazilian military going to blame now? Was there an american on board? I know for a fact there was a deputado on board, wonder if he voted to indict the american pilots. Once again, the very same questions in respect to the Gol/Legacy can be asked in this case….where did the money go that was supposed to be spent in the air traffic system and infrastructure here in Brazil?? We”ll see a HUGE case of corruption be uncovered in Infraero.

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