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Report: Throttle error likely in Brazil air crash

A lever to control engine speed was in the wrong position and probably a major cause of a Brazil's worst air accident last month, according to flight recorder data cited by a newspaper Wednesday.
/ Source: Reuters

A lever to control engine speed was in the wrong position and probably a major cause of Brazil's disastrous air accident last month, according to flight recorder data cited by a newspaper Wednesday.

An Airbus A320 operated by Brazilian carrier TAM Linhas Aereas barreled off the wet runway upon landing at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo July 17, crashed into a cargo terminal and burst into flames. All 187 people aboard and at least 12 more on the ground were killed.

Data from the flight recorder suggests that the thrust lever for one of the turbines was in the "accelerate" position when it should have been switched to idle, Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper reported.

The newspaper said a pilot error was likely but didn't rule out a failure of the aircraft's computer.

If confirmed, the report could cast doubt on speculation that a slippery runway may have been a major cause of the accident. Aviation authorities were criticized for opening a recently repaved runway without grooves that allow rainwater to drain more quickly and help avoid skidding.

One of the aircraft's thrust reversers, which are used to help brake, was inoperative, TAM had previously said. In that case, both throttle levers should have been in the "idle" position during landing approach and in the "full reverse" position on the runway, Folha reported.

Airbus issued a safety advisory to its customers last week stressing the need for pilots to follow proper landing procedures when a thrust reverser is not working.

Dramatic cockpit conversation
A congressional probe into a continuing aviation crisis read out loud Wednesday the last 12 minutes of cockpit conversation, with awed viewers following the drama on national television.

The transcript showed the pilots were aware of the disabled thrust reverser but were unable to brake the plane.

"Reverse one only," "slow down, slow down," and "I can't, I can't," the pilots shouted. The last statements of the transcript were "Oh my God" and "oh, no."

The congressional committee decided to make public the cockpit transcript, but it examined the remaining data from the flight recorder in a closed-door session.

Aviation authorities are also investigating other possible causes of the accident, including a runway known to be slippery and other mechanical problems.

The union representing pilots and flight attendants cautioned Tuesday against jumping to conclusions about the crash's cause.

"We need to let the professionals conclude the investigations, police are not qualified to do the job," Celio Eugenio de Abreu Jr., told Reuters.

Air travel in Brazil has been in chaos since 154 people were killed last September when a Boeing 737 clipped wings in midair with a private jet and crashed in the Amazon jungle.