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18 Jul, 2007 04:05

Hundreds perish in Brazil's worst air tragedy

Up to 200 people are feared dead after a 320 Airbus crashed into a building at Sao Paulo's airport in Brazil. The plane lost control while trying to land in heavy rain.

Rescue teams say it's unlikely that any of the 176 passengers and six crew members survived.

The Brazilian TAM Airbus 320 was flying to Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport from Porto Alegre in the south of the country.

At least another 15 people are believed to have died on the ground. A further ten people were taken to hospital with injuries.

The aircraft skidded off the rain-soaked runway, flew over an busy street below, and finally, exploded after slamming into a cargo terminal and then a fuel station.

“The airplane hit its wing on the airline's deposit and it exploded, everything exploded and everyone ran out,” said one of the catastrophe witnesses.

Emergency services were at the scene within minutes. Firefighters struggled to put out the blaze.

Relatives of those on board the plane besieged the airline's counter for news about their loved ones.

“He called me around 19:50 saying he would leave around 20:00 and that he would arrive at 21:40 and he asked me to wait for him. I came here at 21:00, at the time of the accident and I saw the accident. I am calling him every minute and I can't get through,” Valdemir Buzaneli, father of one of the victims, said.

The runway at Congonhas airport has had problems for years. Earlier this year, officials attempted to ban big jets from using it because of fears they could skid off its short landing strips.

Brazil's air traffic systems have been under scrutiny since last September, when a commercial airliner collided with a private jet over the Amazon forest killing 154 people. The crash investigation revealed a number of problems, including low pay among staff, poor airport maintenance and inadequate Government supervision.

Groups representing pilots and air traffic controllers say the problem with South America is that a huge rise air traffic has not been met with the necessary upgrades to the infrastructure or additional staffing.

Brazil's President, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, has announced three days of mourning as relatives prepare to face hard days ahead.