Brazil: Pilot error likely in 2007 Airbus crash

RIO DE JANEIRO — A military investigation into Brazil’s deadliest air disaster reached no conclusion on blame, but officials said today that pilot error rather than mechanical failure was the more likely cause.

A separate police investigation into the 2007 jetliner crash that killed 199 people blamed government and airline officials and recommended charges against 10 people — a case that is still tied up in courts.

Air Force Brigadier Jorge Kersul Filho said that in the report “we’re not blaming or holding responsible anyone for this event.”

He said the purpose of the air force investigation was to search for causes to help prevent future accidents, not lay blame for criminal proceedings.

The deadly accident occurred when TAM Flight 3054, an Airbus A320, tried to land in driving rain at Sao Paulo’s Congonhas airport in July 2007, speeding down the runway and crashing into a gas station and air cargo building at 109 mph. All 187 people aboard and 12 people on the ground died.

The police report blamed government officials for the failure to set stricter rainy-day landing rules for Congonhas’ short runway or to fully repair its drainage system. Airline officials were cited for poor pilot training.

The police report also confirmed that one of the plane’s thrust reversers — which help slow aircraft upon landing — was not functional.

The air force report said the thruster problem could have been caused by a mechanical failure or by pilot error.

TAM has said it had allowed planes to fly without a thrust reverser based on government-approved safety measures. It also said it followed Airbus maintenance rules that said the plane was safe to fly.

Regardless of that problem, the air force report said, the mechanical condition of the plane and the weather were good enough to allow for a safe landing, given the jet’s weight and the ability of pilots to manually land the aircraft.

“This aircraft was within the parameters to operate at Congonhas,” said Col. Fernando Camargo, a member of the investigative team.

More than once during Camargo’s presentation of the report, he stressed that Flight 3054’s acting co-pilot “didn’t have experience” in that position and normally was a lead pilot. He said the lead pilot on the plane was normally a co-pilot.

There was no immediate explanation for why the two were switched.

Calls to TAM Linhas Aereas SA today were not immediately returned.

Agencia Brasil, the government-run news agency, reported the air force investigation described the pilot as having “average” skills and said he had a flight history of “minor difficulties in critical operational situations.”

The report also hypothesized that landing in heavy rains could have caused anxiety in the pilot’s “psychological state,” the Agencia Brasil said.

The air force team concluded TAM was not giving its pilots enough training.

Camargo added that investigators found TAM pilots bypassed landing at alternative airports in bad weather to avoid “creating problems for the company and the passengers.”

The reluctance to deviate from flight plans “could have influenced the decision to land at Congonhas,” he said.

Sao Paulo has another airport — Guarulhos International, which has longer runways with better drainage.

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