Brazil air force finds jetliner wreckage

Associated Press Writer

Brazilian air force pilots spotted the wrecked fusilage of a jetliner that crashed deep in the Amazon jungle on Saturday, and an aviation official said it was unlikely any of the 155 people aboard had survived.

The president of Brazil's airport authority, Jose Carlos Pereira, said the pilots searched for Gol airlines Flight 1907 through the night in the remote region.

"Our experience shows that when one cannot find the fuselage relatively intact and when the wreckage is concentrated in a relatively small area, the chances of finding any survivors are practically nonexistent," he said.

If no survivors are found, it would be the deadliest air accident in Brazil's history. In 1982, a Vasp 747 crashed in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, killing 137 people.

Pereira said the jungle canopy where the plane crashed is so thick that helicopters will have to lower emergency crews by rope, then those on the ground would cut down trees to create areas large enough for the helicopters to land.

"The jungle is so dense that we're going to have to open it up," Pereira said. "It's a very complex operation, it's extremely humid there, and there are millions of mosquitoes."

The Boeing 737 vanished Friday on its way from Manaus, a major river city in the heart of the Amazon rain forest, to Rio de Janeiro, 1,700 miles away.

The manager of a cattle ranch near the crash site said the plane may have crashed inside the nearby Xingu Indian reservation.

"We heard a loud explosion and some of our employees saw a plane flying low," Milton Picalho, the manager of the 49,000-acre ranch, said by phone.

Authorities initially said the Gol jet struck a Brazilian-made Legacy 600 executive jet near the Serra do Cachimbo region in Para state, and the smaller plane was able to land with damage to its wing and tail.

The authorities later said they were no longer certain that there had been a collision.

"It is impossible to confirm that there is a relation between the incident which caused the (Legacy) crew to perform an emergency landing in Cachimbo and the disappearance of the Gol airplane," federal aviation officials said in a statement early Saturday morning

The Estado news agency quoted Col. Ramon Bueno, head of regional flight protection in Sao Paulo, as saying a mid-air collision was "inexplicable."

"The two planes are very modern and have anti-collision systems, which sound an alarm to alert the plane to any obstacle," Buena told Estado.

Officials offered no further explanation of why they changed their assessment of the possible cause of the crash.

The flight between Manaus and Rio is popular with foreign tourists but there was no immediate word on the nationalities of those aboard.

U.S. Consular Officer Robin Busse was at the airport seeking a passenger list but did not say if any Americans had been aboard either plane.

Sergio Misaci, 47, said his brother Lazaro, 58, had been traveling to Brasilia to celebrate their mother's 80th birthday.

"I have all the hope in the world. We have to root for them and have faith in God," Misaci said.

The smaller plane, which carries up to 16 passengers, was making its inaugural flight to the United States, where it had been purchased by an American company, said its manufacturer, Embraer.

It was piloted by a U.S. citizen, who had left from the airport in Sao Jose dos Campos, near Sao Paulo, said Bueno, the regional flight protection head in Sao Paulo.

The crash was the first major incident for Gol Linhas Aereas Intelligentes SA, an upstart Brazilian airline that took to the skies in 2001 with just six Boeing 737s in 2001.

Since then Gol has rapidly gained market share by offering low-cost tickets, modeling its service after low-cost carriers in the United States and Europe. The company is now Brazil's second-largest airline.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: