Nearly 200 Feared Dead in Brazil Air Crash A Brazilian airliner on a failed landing approach skids off a slick runway, crosses a busy road and plows into a gas station. Authorities say its likely all 176 people aboard are dead and another 15 on the ground.
NPR logo Nearly 200 Feared Dead in Brazil Air Crash

Nearly 200 Feared Dead in Brazil Air Crash

Flames engulf the wreckage of a gas station hit by a TAM Brazilian A320 passenger aircraft that crash-landed July 17, 2007, at Congonhas airport, Sao Paulo, Brazil. The plane with 170 passengers on board hit the gas station, starting a fire, after skidding off a wet runway, local media reported Tuesday. Eugenio Goulart/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

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Eugenio Goulart/AFP/Getty Images

Flames engulf the wreckage of a gas station hit by a TAM Brazilian A320 passenger aircraft that crash-landed July 17, 2007, at Congonhas airport, Sao Paulo, Brazil. The plane with 170 passengers on board hit the gas station, starting a fire, after skidding off a wet runway, local media reported Tuesday.

Eugenio Goulart/AFP/Getty Images

Firefighters are seen near the site where a TAM Airlines commercial jet crashed in Sao Paulo on Tuesday. AP hide caption

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Firefighters are seen near the site where a TAM Airlines commercial jet crashed in Sao Paulo on Tuesday.

AP

The pilot of an airliner that crashed and burst into flames after overshooting a short, rain-soaked runway apparently tried to take off again, barely clearing rush-hour traffic on a major highway. The death toll rose Wednesday to 189.

The TAM airlines Airbus A320 flight that originated in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil on Tuesday cleared the airport fence at the end of the runway and the busy highway but slammed into a gas station and a TAM building, causing an inferno.

"What appears to have happened is that he (the pilot) didn't manage to land and he tried to take off again," Capt. Marcos, a fire department spokesman, told The Associated Press.

The 6,362-foot runway at Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport has been repeatedly criticized as dangerously short. Two planes slipped off it in rainy weather just a day earlier.

In 1996, a TAM airlines Fokker-100 crashed shortly after taking off from the same airport, killing all 96 people on board and three on the ground. In February, a federal court briefly banned takeoffs and landings of three types of large jets because of safety concerns. An appeals court overruled that, saying the safety concerns weren't sufficient to outweigh the severe economic ramifications for Brazil.

A320s were not covered under the judge's ban, and the TAM jet that crashed was a relatively recent model, said William Voss, president and CEO of the Flight Safety Foundation in Alexandria, Va.

"All of a sudden I heard a loud explosion, and the ground beneath my feet shook," Jesus said. "I looked up and I saw a huge ball of fire, and then I smelled the stench of kerosene and sulfur."

Pilots sometimes refer to Congonhas as the "aircraft carrier." They say they are instructed to touch down in the first 1,000 feet of runway, or do a go-around if they overshoot the immediate landing zone.

TAM airlines said there were 176 people on board – 170 passengers and six crew members. The airline released a list of most of the people on the flight early Wednesday morning, but did not specify their nationalities. Brazilian Congressman Julio Redecker was among those on the flight.

"Tam expresses its most profound condolences to the relatives and friends of the passengers who were on Flight 3054," the company said.

Before the list was released, Lamir Buzzanelli said his 41-year-old son, Claudemir, an engineer, had called him from Porto Alegre to say he was in the plane and about to return from a business trip.

"My hopes are not too high because I've been calling him on his cell phone, and all I get is his voice mail," Buzzanelli said, his eyes tearing up.

The crash highlights the country's increasing aviation woes. In September, a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 collided with an executive jet over the Amazon rainforest, causing the passenger jet to crash, killing 154 people.

Since then, there have been questions about the country's underfunded air traffic control systems, deficient radar system and the airlines' ability to cope with a surge in travelers.

Controllers — concerned about being made scapegoats — have engaged in strikes and work slowdowns to raise safety concerns, causing lengthy delays and cancellations.

From Associated Press reports