Recorder Reveals Brazil Pilots' Terror
The pilots of doomed TAM Airlines Flight 3054 screamed "slow down!" and "turn, turn, turn!" seconds before their Airbus A320 skidded off the runway in Sao Paulo and slammed into a building last month, flight recorder transcripts revealed Wednesday.
According to transcripts read before a congressional commission investigating air safety in Brazil, the pilots were unable to activate the spoilers — aerodynamic brakes on the plane's wings — as it sped down the short, rain-slicked runway.
"Spoiler nothing," one pilot says, giving the first indication that something is wrong. "Slow down, slow down, slow down." The other pilot replies: "I can't. Oh my God!"
The last words heard in the cockpit were: "Turn, turn, turn! Oh no!" followed by screams and the sound of two explosions.
The July 17 crash at Congonhas airport killed all 187 aboard the jetliner and 12 people on the ground in Brazil's deadliest air disaster.
Brazilian daily Folha de S. Paulo reported that according to the flight data recorder, one of the plane's throttles was in the wrong position as it touched down, causing it to speed up instead of slow down.
The congressional commission did not review the data recorder information publicly, but seemed to acknowledge the report's accuracy by discussing how the information was leaked.
According to the cockpit transcript, one of the pilots asked about conditions on the runway shortly before landing and was told: "wet and slippery."
Soon after the crash, some speculated that the runway, which is short and notoriously slick in rainy weather, contributed to the crash.
But the airline also has acknowledged that one of the jet's thrust reversers, used for braking, was broken and had been deactivated prior to the crash.
The flight recorder showed the pilots were aware they had only one functioning thrust reverser — something that is not usually a problem.
Video footage of the plane landing showed it speeding down the runway more than three times faster than other planes.
Folha speculated that an incorrect throttle position could have fooled the plane's computer system into anticipating that the pilot was trying to take off again, automatically disabling the spoilers.
"There are signs that this happened," Brazilian aviation consultant Elias Gedeon said when asked about Folha's hypothesis. "But we can't say 100 percent this was the problem."
A finding that pilot error or mechanical failure was responsible would likely ease criticism of the government, which has been widely accused of failing to address Brazil's aviation woes after a Gol jetliner went down in the Amazon last September, killing 154 people.
That crash touched off months of work stoppages and slowdowns by air traffic controllers, who complained of dangerous working conditions.
The runway at Congonhas had been shut earlier this year for renovations, but was opened before it could be grooved — a process that helps water run off and provides better traction in rain.
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