Brazil denies runway problem

From Reuters

Debate over the cause of Brazil’s worst airplane crash shifted Thursday from concern about the runway to possible pilot error or a failure of the plane’s braking systems.

Soon after Tuesday’s accident at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas International Airport, which killed all 186 people on board and at least three on the ground, many officials and aviation experts blamed the rain-slicked runway on which the TAM airlines Airbus A320 skidded before going over a major thoroughfare and slamming into a gas station and cargo terminal and exploding.

But Globo TV said the jet had been flying without one of its thrust reversers, which help slow the plane at landing. An executive for the airline said the jet could be flown even with two reversers shut down.

The national airport authority, Infraero, said it had video of the botched landing showing the jet accelerating instead of braking when it touched down on the short, slippery runway -- perhaps because the pilot was trying to lift off again after realizing he could not brake in time.


Infraero chief Jose Carlos Pereira said the runway was safe for aircraft the size of the A320 and that the recently repaved landing strip was not the cause. Nevertheless, he said air traffic at Congonhas would be cut by nearly 20%.

“The government is clearly trying to convince public opinion that the runway at Congonhas was not at fault,” said Elnio Borges, president of the Varig Pilots’ Assn. “They’re going to do everything they can to blame the pilot.”

Only 25 of the bodies recovered had been identified, and firefighters said the exact number of dead could not yet be established. Four seriously injured people died in hospitals. Eight were missing at the TAM cargo building hit by the plane.