Brazil under pressure after deadly air crash

The Brazilian government faced rising pressure over the safety of its aviation industry Sunday amid public outcry over the country's deadliest air disaster that killed around 200 people this week.

Brazil under pressure after deadly air crash

The Brazilian government faced rising pressure over the safety of its aviation industry Sunday amid public outcry over the country's deadliest air disaster that killed around 200 people this week.

Just a day after President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva insisted the country's airways met international safety standards, a power failure in air traffic control forced five US-bound flights to turn back temporarily Saturday, highlighting the frequent problems experienced by Brazil's aviation industry.

The flights had to return to Sao Paulo's Guarulhos International Airport while the northern Amazon region's Manaus center went down for several hours, according to aviation officials.

Meanwhile, recovery teams -- including around 60 firefighters and a squadron of sniffer dogs -- continued to work at the site of the wreckage where the black box containing the pilot voice recorder was found.

The cockpit voice recorder was expected to help the investigation, after an earlier find that was believed to be the two voice recorders turned out to be one flight recorder and one heavily damaged regular tape recorder.

Grieving family members of the 187 people who died aboard the TAM Airlines flight continued to demand justice as critics pointed to a possible technical fault in the aircraft as well as an unsafe runway at Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport.

Waving black flags and banners criticizing the government, some of them let loose their emotions Saturday.

Protesters especially disliked a comment from Tourism Minister Marta Suplicy, who said that amid an air system crisis in the South American country, passengers should 'relax and enjoy themselves.'

In response, one poster read: 'Marta -- We are not relaxing and we are not enjoying ourselves ... we are weeping and praying for our dead.'

During a televised address Friday night, Lula announced measures to reduce air traffic and congestion at the airport where the crash occurred. Local media said the plan would cut down on air traffic by 30 percent.

The plan would also make sure that within 60 days, Congonhas was no longer the main hub of Brazilian air traffic, by hosting only direct flights and no stopovers and limiting the number of flights arriving and departing to 33 per hour instead of 44.

Within three months, the location of a third Sao Paoulo airport would be chosen, though that project would likely take around six years to complete.

But the accident was already taking on political tones, as the opposition governor and mayor challenged Lula in an open letter to take 'urgent and necessary measures for the safety and efficiency of air transportation.'

Lula dismissed suggestions that top aviation officials should be fired.

'The level of safety of our airways system is compatible with all international norms,' Lula said.

He asked Brazilians to remain calm and await the outcome of investigations, insisting no one could be held responsible at this stage.

The runway at Congonhas has been criticized by pilots for being slippery, particularly during wet conditions, and was several hundred meters (yards) shorter than a comparable one at New York's LaGuardia airport.

TAM Airlines also said the jetliner's right thrust reverser, which helps slow down the aircraft on landing, was 'deactivated' at the time of the accident.

The airline insisted such a fault 'does not jeopardize landings,' but some experts said that was not true in rainy conditions. In addition, the main runway at Congonhas airport had been resurfaced last month, but more work was scheduled for September.

Forty-five of the deceased have been identified and four of those wounded on the ground when the plane skidded off the rain-slicked runway and slammed into a building in a populated area have died of their injuries.

At least seven of the victims were of Japanese descent, airline records showed.

The final toll was not expected to be known until the entire identification process was complete, which could take at least one month.

Before Tuesday, the deadliest air tragedy in Brazil was the September collision over the Amazon jungle of a GOL airliner and a private jet. All 154 people aboard the Boeing 737 died, while the occupants of the smaller plane escaped unharmed.

AFP

Güncelleme Tarihi: 22 Temmuz 2007, 10:57
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