A Very Bad Time In South America

Accidents/Incidents

Over the last couple of days, there have been two airline accidents in South America, one of which had a tremendous loss of life.

Colombia Plane CrashThe first was relatively minor, though the pictures would say otherwise. This plane, operated by AeroRepublica of Colombia, decided to go surfing in the ocean after landing on a slick runway in norther Colombia. Fortunately, there were only seven minor injuries. (Photo credit: AP)

The other accident was far worse and much more difficult to talk about. A TAM A320 was trying to land at Sao Paulo’s close-in domestic Congonhas airport when it ran off the runway and crashed into a TAM office after crossing a major highway. Everyone onboard and some on the ground died. Last I heard, the total was just shy of 200 dead.

As usual, we don’t know what caused this crash just yet but inevitably many different factors will have been involved. There was bad weather at the time, so there’s a good chance that played a part, at least it would have made the pilots’ job harder. We should know what happened soon enough. The black boxes have been found and are on their way to the US for analysis.

Brazil has had a string of aviation problems over the last several months. The Gol accident 10 months ago has created more questions than answers regarding air traffic control and governmental oversight issues. In fact, since that time, there have been major questions about the system’s safety. Air traffic controllers have gone on strike to protest the safety issues and delays have been massive. Whether or not that had anything to do with this accident, we don’t know, but even if not, hopefully this can draw attention to the air traffic control problems down there. (Photo credit: AP)

APTOPIX Brazil Plane CrashOne thing that likely played some part in this is Congonhas itself. The airport has a short runway at 6,300ft (that’s about 500 feet shorter than Washington/National and Burbank but also 500 feet longer than Orange County). Earlier this year, a judge tried to prevent large aircraft from landing at the airport (the plane that crashed was not in this ban), but he was overruled by an appeals court, so nothing changed. The runway had recently been resurfaced, but the deep grooves to help increase runway stickiness in rain had yet to be carved. There also were not arrestor beds at the end of the runway to help slow the plane if it went too far.

But again, we don’t know if any of this played a part. Certainly a longer runway is more forgiving. Reports say the aircraft was going very fast and may have tried to go around. In that case, none of those things would likely have mattered. We’ll be hearing a lot more about this in the next couple days. Man, I hate this.

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