Brazil crash plane speed puzzles experts

July 21, 2007 - 0:0

SAO PAULO (AP) -- One of the two thrust reversers on an airliner carrying 186 people that crashed in a fireball was turned off when the plane landed, the jet's owner said, as officials tried to determine why it raced down a runway instead of slowing down.

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors asked a federal judge to ""temporarily paralyze"" Congonhas airport — a move that could disrupt air travel in Latin America's largest nation. The judge could issue a decision as early as Monday on the airport's fate. Responding to warnings that such a move could create havoc in travel and cause severe financial repercussions for airlines, prosecutor Marcio Schusterschitz said it was better ""to choose life over money."" ""We think this situation has reached its limit,"" Schusterschitz said in an interview with The Associated Press. ""We are flying blind."" Brazil's Globo TV reported earlier Thursday that an unidentified problem in the Airbus-320's right thrust reverser emerged four days before the crash and was under investigation by authorities. TAM, the airline, did not provide details about the problem but the company told Globo TV that Airbus maintenance rules approved by Brazilian aviation officials say the type of problem found must be inspected within 10 days and that the planes can fly in the interim. President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was expected to finally address Brazil's deadliest air tragedy in a televised speech to the nation Friday evening. His government has come under fire for failing to deal with the nation's air travel safety problems. His only comment since the plane exploded Tuesday night was a brief statement of condolences issued hours later. The TAM Linhas Aereas SA jet had 186 people aboard and at least three people died on the ground after it slammed into a building owned by the airline, causing explosions and a fire that was still smoldering two days later. By late Thursday, 188 bodies had been retrieved, but forensic examiners had identified only 25. The crash came less than a year after 154 people were killed when a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 collided with a small jet over the Amazon rainforest in September. That crash had been the country's deadliest. Meanwhile, authorities struggled to determine why the TAM jet raced down the runway after landing instead of slowing down just before it was blown apart in a series of explosions. Security video released by the air force showed TAM Flight 3054 speeding down the tarmac more than four times as fast as other planes landing around the same time. That raised the possibility of pilot or mechanical error instead of a slick and short runway widely cited as a likely cause. Brig. Jose Carlos Pereira, president of the national airport authority Infraero, said authorities must wait for an analysis of the black box to explain why the jet was going so fast. ""For some reason, the plane did not slow down,"" he said. ""Something happened and the pilot, for some reason, accelerated the plane."" A day before the crash, two planes skidded off the runway. On March 22, a Boeing 737-400 overshot the runway in a heavy rain, stopping just short of a steep drop. In February, a federal court briefly banned three types of large jets from using the airport, but was overruled on appeal. Airbus-320s were not covered under the court's ban