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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 July 2007, 18:34 GMT 19:34 UK
Brazil jet disaster probe begins
Temperatures in the fire reportedly reached 1,000C

Rescue workers and crash investigators are searching the wreckage of an Airbus 320 Brazilian passenger jet that crashed in flames at Sao Paulo airport.

All 186 people on board Tam Airlines Flight 3054 died, the airline boss has confirmed, as well as several more on the ground.

The plane skidded on Congonhas airport runway as it landed in driving rain.

The pilot tried to take off again, but the jet slid across a busy road, hit a fuel depot and warehouse, and exploded.

Congonhas airport is notorious for its short and often slippery runway, and its proximity to the city centre.

Among others, the investigation is to look into the condition of the recently resurfaced runway, concerns about which had been the subject of court decisions.

Runway ban

The flight began in the southern city of Porto Alegre.

Reports spoke of motorists being killed on the road and people jumping out of the windows of the low-rise Tam Airlines building.

There was a big explosion from behind the buildings, and fire and smoke flew up into the air
Witness Guido Reusch

"The plane accelerated when it reached the end of the runway and tried to take off again to avoid the road, but it crashed into the building and exploded," eyewitness Junior Matos told AFP news agency.

Guido Reusch, who was on an apartment block balcony overlooking the runway, told the BBC that he had watched the plane coming in.

"It touched down in front of us, left the runway, slid off behind the buildings at the end of the runway and crashed," he said.

"There was a big explosion from behind the buildings, and fire and smoke flew up into the air, and we could smell the smoke being blown across the airport," Mr Reusch added.

AIRBUS A320
Graphic
Launched: 1988
In operation: 1,700
Operators include: British Airways; Air France; Air Canada; China Eastern Airlines; Iberia; United Airlines; Jet Blue Airways

The chairman of Tam (Tam Linhas Aereas SA), Marco Bolo, said: "Unhappily, there is no sign of survivors."

Mr Bolo said three workers in the Tam Airlines building had also been killed and five others were missing.

A Brazilian opposition congressman, Julio Redecker, is reported to have been among those on the flight.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has declared three days of national mourning for the victims of what is thought to be Brazil's worst air disaster.

The state's attorney general, Rodrigo Pinho, said the authorities would carry out a thorough crash investigation "to determine the cause and to identify who was responsible".

In February, a local judge banned the use of the airport by Fokker 100, Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 737-700 jets, but this was overturned by an appeals court.

Remedial work, including laying a new surface, has been carried out in recent months.

Congonhas airport
Congonhas airport is very close to the city centre

However, questions remain about whether the runway had been sufficiently grooved to drain water in heavy rains.

A day before Tuesday's accident, another plane skidded off the airport's runway.

Previously, the worst accident in Brazil's aviation history occurred last September, when a Gol Boeing 737 flying from Manaos to Brasilia crashed into the Amazon jungle, killing all 154 people on board after a mid-air collision with a small private jet.

In 1996, a Tam Airlines Fokker-100 crashed minutes after take off from Congonhas airport, bursting into flames and killing all 96 people on board and three on the ground.

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