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At least 200 dead in Brazil jet crash

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« on: July 18, 2007, 02:14:21 am »

Fiery plane crash at Sao Paulo airport kills at least 200
Story Highlights
NEW: 200 dead at scene, fire department says

NEW: Airline reports 176 people aboard crashed plane

Airliner slides across busy road, strikes building, starts fire

Small airport is within densely populated area of city

SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNN) -- A jetliner crashed and exploded into flames at Brazil's busiest airport on Tuesday night, killing at least 200 people, local rescue workers said.

A rescue worker braves flames in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

 1 of 2 more photos   As investigators prepared to open a probe into the cause of the crash of the TAM Airlines Airbus 320, questions were being raised about both the growth in Brazilian air traffic and Sao Paulo's Congonhas Airport.

The Sao Paulo fire department said at least 200 people, including some on the ground, were dead at the scene. The figure would make Tuesday's crash Brazil's deadliest air disaster.

There was no immediate word on survivors.

Brazil President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared three days of national morning for the victims, according to reports from The Associated Press.

Witnesses said the plane skidded across a major road at rush hour. Reports that the plane struck a gas station could not be confirmed, but a massive fire broke out.

The crash happened in a driving rain, and the plane apparently struck a building bearing the airline's logo at the small domestic airport in the heart of the city. At least 50 rescue vehicles were at the scene, firefighters said. The fire continued to burn into the night.

Fact Box
Airbus A320

1,700 in operation as of June 2007
Typical passenger seating 150
Typical two-class cabin layout
Range of 5,550km/3,500mi
Overall length 123 feet, 3 inches
Height 38 feet, 7 inches
Cabin length 90 feet, 3 inches
Wingspan 111 feet, 10 inches
Fuel capacity 6,300 gallons

Source: Paulo Barros told the Brazilian newspaper O Globo that he was getting ready to board a flight to Brasilia on another runway when the plane crashed.

"We saw the plane go straight down the runway. It didn't manage to stop and went into the avenue. It went by so fast that we thought it was taking off," Barros said.

Flight JJ3054 was coming to Sao Paulo from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, the airline said. TAM Airlines said there were 176 people on board -- 170 passengers and six crew members.  Watch scene after plane crashes in Sao Paulo

Sao Paulo's airport is notorious for having short, slippery runways, CNN's Miles O'Brien reported. The runway was recently resurfaced, but the cutting of grooves to channel rainwater off the pavement had not been completed, he said.

CNN's Richard Quest said the Sao Paulo airport is designed to best handle short commuter flights for Brazil's large domestic air market.

A Brazilian court in February banned large jets at the busy airport because of safety concerns, The Associated Press reported.

But an appeals court overruled the ban, saying it would hurt business and that the safety problems did not warrant halting air traffic, according to AP.

The airline said it could not immediately confirm the extent of the damage or the number of victims. Family members of those on the plane were being given assistance, it said.

"I was surprised by a ball of fire in front of my window," Deisy Oliveira, who lives by the airport, told O Globo.

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"The atmosphere is tense and nervous, because nobody really knows what happened. Since the plane hit the building and a gas station, you can't tell exactly where the explosion happened."

The airport's main runway was closed for several weeks at one point while it was repaired because of a problem with water collecting on the runway, Tom Hennigan, a reporter from The Times of London in Sao Paulo, told CNN. It was too early, however, to say whether that may have contributed to Tuesday's incident, he said.

The airport is small and in a densely populated area, he said.

"When you fly into Congonhas airport, it is like you are literally flying past people's living rooms in apartment blocks," Hennigan said. "Then you land on the runway. It is completely surrounded by the central part of Sao Paulo city. This is not an airport out on the edge of the city. This is right in the city."

According to AP, Brazil's deadliest crash before Tuesday occurred last September when a Gol Aerolinhas Inteligentes SA Boeing 737 collided with an executive jet over the Amazon rainforest, killing 154 people. The executive jet landed safely. E-mail to a friend

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.
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