Let me give you a little history. On July 17 2007, five years ago, a Tam Airbus failed its landing at São Paulo’s Congonhas airport and stole a hundred and ninety-nine lives. There were 199 families crushed by this disaster, families crushed but not broken; who were shattered, but not weakened; who were reduced in number but not heart. They were typical families—just mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters. One day they had been just like you and me, going about their daily lives and then on July 17, 2007, their lives were permanently disrupted. They were ordinary families, and they responded in a way that plane crash victim’s families sometimes do, and that is join a group. Something in the chemistry of the group made them extraordinary. Where alone, they were shattered, together, they were mended; where they were once weakened, together they were powerful. They bonded with each other. It is not that these bonds in any way replaced those who were lost. It is simply that their complex shared feelings of loss, grief and anger united them, made them siblings in a kindred battle; recalibrated their lives; recast them in new roles that would allow them to band together to form a fellowship of righteousness. Their kinship was born of innocent blood spilled by carelessness and negligence gave them the right and responsibility and ability to fight carelessness and negligence in aviation. The alliance gave…gives them strength to reform —and keep reforming—aviation in Brazil.
In 2007, I interviewed the families of Tam Flight 3054, came to know all of them. I did more than hear and document their stories and learn their pain. I came to know and respect them as individuals. Their case in court ultimately triumphed; but they did not rest on their laurels. My experience with Tam Flight 3054 was how I cam to know the group. ABRAPAVAA has continued to fight for the victims of air accidents. I have never lost contact with them.
So, although I am currently abroad working on the case of a crash that occurred off the southern coast of Africa, I was not surprised to find an email from the president of ABRAPAVAA. Sandra, President of the Brazilian Association of Relatives and Friends of Victims of Air Accidents herself lost her husband in a 1994 accident that killed 99.
The Brazilian group continues to be a watchdog over Brazilian aviation. Sandra wrote me over a matter of concern that Tam is again putting passengers at risk. Tam and Chile’s LAN Airlines merged to form LATAM Airlines Group; TAM Linhas Aéreas completed the merger on June 22. The merger forms the largest airline in Brazil. Though it is under new ownership, it seems to be repeating an old story of poor maintenance.
ABRAPAVAA is worried about the lack of maintenance, the risk that passengers are exposed to on every flight (lack of maintenance, ongoing unrepaired vibration problems, casual rather than immediate repairs of bird strike damage) and what makes this worse is that many of these problems are not officially reported but merely passed on word of mouth. When the flight crew just mentions problems to the mechanics, where is the paper trail? Where are the checks? Where are the failsafes?
ABRAPAVAA fears that ignoring LATAM problems will lead to more fatal events. They wish to be proactive and find a way to get ANAC (Brazils oversight agency) to be on the alert, and monitor LATAM’s critical maintenance situations, but ANAC seems to be closing their eyes to the whole issue.
To take no initiative will result in loss of life. What can be done? That is a good question.