By Ben Tavener, Senior Contributing Reporter
SÃO PAULO, BRAZIL – A trial has begun in São Paulo over the deaths of 199 people in what was the deadliest plane crash ever on Brazilian soil. On July 17, 2007, TAM flight JJ3054 failed to stop when it landed at São Paulo’s Congonhas Airport, skidding off a rain-soaked runway, across a major road at the height of the rush hour traffic, and slamming into a TAM warehouse building, killing all 187 passengers and crew on board and twelve people in the warehouse.
Eight prosecution witnesses have been called to testify at the trial. Two senior TAM officials, Marco Aurélio dos Santos de Miranda e Castro and Alberto Fajerman, as well as Denise Maria Ayres Abreu, the former director of ANAC, Brazil’s national civil aviation authority, are accused of culpable negligence over aviation security.
The pilots of the Airbus A320-233, en route from Porto Alegre to São Paulo, tried to land the plane in adverse weather conditions, but overshot the runway.
Investigations have centered on two areas: firstly, whether faulty thrust reversers, which had been deactivated on one engine, had been to blame for failing to allow the plane to stop.
Secondly, why planes had been allowed to land at the newly resurfaced runway at Congonhas Airport, which had not yet had special grooves engraved into it in order to prevent aircrafts from skidding on water.
The acting prosecutor said Mr. dos Santos de Miranda and Mr. Fajerman “had known about the atrocious conditions” of the airport’s primary runway, but “not taken steps to redirect flights to other airports” during the wet conditions. Prosecutors also said that Ms. Abreu, as head of ANAC, had acted “recklessly” in allowing the Congonhas runway to be used without her formal inspection.
However, all the defendants’ attorneys have questioned how their clients could be held to account and say their roles were not directly related to the incident. Witnesses for the defense will be heard in November and December this year. If found guilty, those on trial could spend up to twelve years in prison, although two to five years is thought more likely, meaning they would not be handled in a closed-prison regime.
The accident shocked Brazilians at the time and is the worst incident in the country’s aviation history to have happened on Brazilian soil, as well as the deadliest involving an A320 aircraft anywhere in the world.
Congonhas Airport, in São Paulo’s South Zone, is usually the go-to airport for domestic passengers, as it is nestled in the heart of the city.
Read more (in Portuguese).
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