| Firefighters work at the crash site in Sao Paulo. (AP)
Sao Paulo, July 18 (Reuters): Brazilian rescue workers to day sifted through the smouldering wreckage of a jet liner that crashed at Sao Paulo airport, killing as many as 200 people in the country’s second major air disaster in less than a year.
By dawn, firemen had pulled 62 charred bodies from the Airbus A320 that carried 176 people on board and from the ruins of a building the plane hit. They said they expected no survivors, indicating it may be the worst air disaster in Brazil’s history.
Three people in the building were found still alive, but died in the hospital, raising the official death toll so far to 65, Sao Paulo state public security secretariat said. Rescue teams found the plane’s black box in the wreckage.
TAM Linhas Aereas, Brazil’s number one airline, released the list of passengers overnight.
The plane, flying from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, skidded off a wet landing strip after dark yesterday at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport, shot over a bustling avenue, and slammed into a cargo terminal where people were working.
The airport is known for slippery runways and some aviation experts have questioned if the runway had been sufficiently grooved to drain water in heavy rains.
Congonhas recently repaved one of its runways after officials tried to ban wide-bodied jets from the airport on fears they could skid off its short landing strips.
“It was an announced tragedy, an accident in waiting,” said Sandra Assali, president of the Brazilian association of friends and relatives of air crash victims.
The TAM accident is likely to renew pressure on President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva to tackle ongoing safety concerns in Brazil’s chaotic aviation system. Critics say his administration has been dragging its feet. Lula declared three days of mourning and ordered an investigation.
“When is the next (accident) going to be,” Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper said in its online edition today. Globo, a leading daily newspaper, said on its front page: “New tragedy has air security in check.”
Another major air accident in September last year threw Brazil’s aviation system into disarray, exposing a series of problems including a lack of air traffic controllers and equipment.
In that accident, 154 people were killed when a Brazilian Boeing 737 clipped wings with a private jet and crashed in the Amazon jungle in what was then the country’s worst air disaster. Controllers went on strike to protest poor pay and what they called spotty radar and radio coverage. As a result flights have frequently been cancelled or delayed.