Pilot Error Suspected

Monday, August 27, 2007
By George Hatcher

Sources Close to Probe Say Engine Wasn’t Idled

Authorities believe pilot error caused the tragedy. If confirmed, it would cast doubt that poor runway conditions were to blame.

Pilots had programmed the computerized engine controls — similar to a car’s cruise-control system — to maintain a speed of about 150 mph. When the plane was about 30 feet off the ground, the pilots correctly switched one of the engines to idle, but did not do so with the other engine. When the plane was braked, the second engine attempted to accelerate to maintain the preset speed.

One of the airplane’s thrust reversers, a device used to slow the aircraft, was broken but the manufacturer claims plane is safe to fly with a disabled reverser.

However, it has long been claimed that the short runway at Congonhas is unsafe in rainy conditions. The runway has been the site of problem landings before, and was even closed briefly this year, by court order.

Air traffic controllers fear that government officials will use reports of pilot error to excuse themselves from making further improvements to the air safety system.

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