Less than a year after the Gol Boeing mid-air crash which killed 154 people over the Amazon, Brazil is faced with another major plane crash, only this time in even bigger proportions.
Last night at 7pm, a TAM Airlines Airbus A320 skidded off the runway while landing at Congonhas domestic airport in São Paulo, and collided with a warehouse building and a gas station across the highway from the airport. The explosion caused by the collision took firefighters over six hours to contain, and left no survivors. The flight was arriving from Porto Alegre.
TAM Airlines' official statement this morning reported that 186 passengers were on board of the aircraft, and that 14 bodies of people who were on ground have been already recovered from the accident scene. At least 200 people have been confirmed dead.
The tragic accident has already been ranked amongst the 40 worst in air travel history. Here are some updates with reports in English and Portuguese:
Investigators are looking into why Brazilian aviation authorities rushed to reopen the airport's recently resurfaced runway, which had been closed for 45 days for repairs. Just this past Monday, a small plane had skidded off a runway at Congonhas airport, which is designed to best handle short commuter flights for Brazil's large domestic air market.
In February, a Brazilian court had banned large jets at the busy Congonhas airport because of safety concerns, but the ruling was reversed shortly after.
A TAM pilot talked about the accident to Globo, and claimed that it was bound to happen. Grooving of the runway in Congonhas, a measure taken to drain water, had not yet been finished when the runway was re-opened on June 29.
While there is speculation about the condition of the runway under the torrential rains during the time of the accident, reports from the control tower indicate that the aircraft did not break after touching ground. According to technicians, the aircraft actually accelerated instead of breaking right upon touching the runway.
The black box has already been found, and sent to the United States for further examination by the National Transportation Safety Board. In the meantime, the Federal Police has been tapped to investigate the condition of the runway in Congonhas.
I don't feel it is appropriate to post several pictures of the accident here, but I have included links for picture galleries for those interested:
President Lula da Silva has declared three days of national mourning for the victims. TAM Airlines will no longer operate the flight from Porto Alegre to Congonhas under number JJ 3054.
My sincere condolences go out to the families and friends of the victims.