RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil — One of the pilots of a Brazilian aircraft screamed in horror as his Airbus A320 jetliner overshot the wet runway at Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport on July 17 and slammed into a cargo terminal, killing all 187 people on board and 12 more on the ground. It was the worst Brazilian air crash ever.
"Oh my God! Oh my God!" the pilot exclaimed as TAM Flight 3054 roared down the airport's short runway at full speed after its spoilers, which would have helped slow the aircraft on landing, failed to work.
Those chilling details emerged Wednesday when Brazilian legislators released a cockpit recorder transcript that captured the doomed flight's final moments.
Legislators investigating the crash also told Brazilian reporters that the plane's flight data recorder showed that the Airbus' right engine had been incorrectly set to accelerate during the ill-fated landing, confirming earlier press reports. The engine's thrust reverser apparently also had been turned off.
Wednesday's revelations helped take the heat off of Brazil's government, which has been harshly criticized after the crash for opening the Sao Paulo airport's repaved runway in June without completing grooves that could channel off water. At least five planes had skidded off the runway during rains before the crash. No one was injured in the previous incidents.
The new information pointed blame for the crash instead at either mechanical failure or pilot error. It also showed that pilots Kleyber Lima and Henrique Stephanini Di Sacco hadn't attempted to take off again, as many had speculated in the days following the crash.
The voice transcript was dramatically read aloud at a congressional hearing as the words were projected on a screen.
Just before the crash, one of the pilots says, "Decelerate, decelerate," while the other answers, "It can't, it can't," according to the transcript.
The last spoken words on the transcript are "oh no," followed by crushing noises and a scream.
"The government appears to be exonerated, but that doesn't mean there weren't any errors that led to this crash," said aviation expert Luis Alexandre Fuccille, a former official in the country's Defense Ministry. "The government can't say, 'We have no guilt. Everything's fine,' because everything isn't fine."
He said the accident's high death toll could have been avoided if the airport's short 6,362-foot runway had ended in an escape zone to stop runaway planes.
Brazilian officials have been angrily debating the safety of their aviation system for the past 10 months, since a Boeing 737 carrying 154 people clipped an executive jet in midair, then plunged into the Amazon jungle in what had been Brazil's deadliest plane crash.
An investigation suggested that flight controllers had mistakenly placed the planes on intersecting courses. Controllers have since limited the number of planes they monitor amid complaints that the country's Defense Ministry, which oversees civilian aviation, was ill prepared to deal with the rapidly growing air traffic. The transportation system has been plagued with widespread flight delays and cancellations because of the new controller limits.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva responded to the latest crash by firing beleaguered Defense Minister Waldir Pires, who oversaw civil aviation, and replacing him with former Justice Minister and Supreme Court President Nelson Jobim, who promised to overhaul the aviation system. He also called for construction of a new Sao Paulo airport.
Jobim said Wednesday's revelations wouldn't change his plans to impose wide-ranging reforms, including diverting traffic from Congonhas and building a new airport.