Brazilian airliner skids off runway into petrol station

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The Independent US

A passenger plane carrying more than 174 people skidded off a runway and burst into flames after crashing into a petrol station in the Brazilian city of Sao Paolo.

There was no official word on any casualties last night, but Brazilian television footage showed bodies wrapped in bandages at the crash site. The Brazilian Government then confirmed one man had been removed from the plane but the national Globo News television said at least eight people were injured.

The Linhas Aereas Tam plane was flying from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil to the country's largest city and busiest airport.

According to some local reports the Airbus 320 skidded off the runway before traversing across a busy road at the height of the rush hour. It then crashed into a petrol station owned by Tam, the airline's operator, with flames shooting high into the air.

Television images showed smoke billowing above the wreckage and firefighters spraying water around a building with the Tam sign in view.

Witnesses reported hearing one loud blast followed by a series of explosions and reported that a dozen ambulances could be seen around the site of the crash. One witness said: "The whole thing is in flames."

The incident came 10 months after Brazil's worst crash, a collision between a Gol Aerolinhas Inteligentes SA Boeing 737 and an executive jet over the Amazon rainforest. All 154 people on the passenger jet died. The executive jet landed safely.

A witness, Jonathan Wheatley, said that since then Brazil has been plagued with air travel safety fears and told Sky News that the runway on which the crash took place had been recently found to be "dangerously slippy" and had closed for repair work only 10 weeks ago. The runway in question has also previously been criticised by industry officials as being too short.

Last night's accident happened during heavy rain, and critics have warned for years that such an accident was possible at the airport because its runway is too short for large planes landing when the runway is wet.

Mr Wheatley said: "It's been raining all day... all week... and the runway is quite greasy."

A federal court in February briefly banned takeoffs and landings of large jets at the airport because of safety concerns at Congonhas airport, which handles huge volumes of flights for the massive domestic Brazilian air travel market.

An appeals court overruled the ban on three types of aircraft, saying it would have severe economic ramifications, and that there were not enough safety concerns to prevent the planes from landing and taking off from the airport.

Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the President, called an urgent cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Brasilia to discuss the accident.