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Thursday, July 19, 2007

Brazil plane crash

Few people can be unaware of Tuesday's horrendous plane crash at Congonhas airport, in Sao Paolo, Brazil. The pictures of it have filled me with horror. I'm petrified of flying anyway and simply refuse to do it, so those images have done nothing to change my mind. But what's especially horrific about the Congonhas crash, is that preliminary investigations say it was wholly avoidable. It doesn't look like the plane had a mechanical failure. It seems human error caused wholly by the condition and location of the airport, is to blame.

The press has been full of reports about the unfit state of the runway. It apparently has very poor drainage, despite some remedial work, and many aircraft have simply aquaplaned off the runway, after one of Sao Paolo's frequent and heavy rain storms. The runway is also very short, leading pilots to nickname it "the aircraft carrier". Three types of larger aircraft were prohibited from using the aircraft for a while earlier this year, after a judge ruled the aircraft was unsuitable for them to land and take off safely. However, this decision was reversed on appeal, after pressure from the Brazilian aviation industry, as it was suffering heavy losses as a result of the ban.

To my mind, the biggest problem with Congonhas, and the reason this airport should cease to operate altogether, is its location. It's right in the city of Sao Paolo. The city has grown so rapidly in the years since the airport was built, that the runway is now essentially hemmed in, on all sides, by thousands upon thousands of buildings, many of them high-rise. This makes the approach very difficult, and places thousands of people, on the ground and in the air, at very grave risk. I didn't quite grasp the situation until I saw the following video on YouTube. It was shot from the window of an airliner descending into Congonhas. It's horrific. The closer it gets to the ground, the plane barely skims over some of the higher buildings.

Imagine if airliners came in this low over central London? If I was a Sao Paolo resident living under the flight path to Congonhas, I'd definitely be looking to move house by now. As far as I'm concerned, anywhere I can't get to by road, rail or sea, can stay where it is. I'm NEVER getting on a plane, however safe it's meant to be, because if something goes wrong, the odds of survival are so low, with all that combustible fuel on board. Yuck. It really doesn't bear thinking about. Those poor people.

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