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Originally published July 21, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified July 21, 2007 at 2:04 AM

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Brazil crash probe turns to uncoupled part

S...AULO, Brazil — A disconnected thrust reverser emerged as a possible factor in a Brazilian jetliner overshooting the runway...

The Associated Press

SÃO PAULO, Brazil — A disconnected thrust reverser emerged as a possible factor in a Brazilian jetliner overshooting the runway, but the political heat intensified Friday after an official expressed relief that blame for the deadly crash might shift away from the government.

President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva's administration came under wide criticism after the accident at São Paulo's Congonhas airport killed 191 people Tuesday night.

Critics accuse officials of failing to address long-standing air-travel safety problems including deficient radars, underfunded air-traffic control systems and the short, slick runway at Congonhas, Brazil's busiest airport.

Lula, who had been largely silent about Brazil's worst air disaster, promised in a televised address Friday night a series of measures to remedy the situation, including limiting the number of flights and restricting the weight of planes traveling into Congonhas. He also announced plans to construct a new airport in São Paulo, whose location would be chosen within 90 days.

Earlier in the day, the Cabinet-level Civil Aviation Council announced 10 measures to reduce traffic at Congonhas. The measures include banning charter flights and executive jets from the airport, and airlines were given 60 days to stop using it as a hub for connecting flights.

All 187 people on the TAM Airbus A320 and at least four on the ground died when the plane raced down the tarmac in a heavy rain, skipped over a crowded highway and exploded in a fireball that was still smoldering three days later.

The political heat increased when a TV network showed one of Lula's aides, Marco Aurelio Garcia, making an obscene gesture that was widely interpreted as a reaction of glee as he watched a report that one of the jet's two thrust reversers had been deactivated four days before the crash.

The reversers throw the force of jet engines forward to help planes slow while landing.

Nevertheless, Garcia quickly issued a statement that he was "offended" when he learned of the mechanical problem, not only because so many people died but because "important sectors of the media didn't hesitate to blame the government for the tragedy in São Paulo only a few hours after the accident."

Brazilian media and opposition politicians insisted Friday that Garcia's gesture showed the aide was pleased that political heat might be deflected away from Lula's government.

Hours after Globo TV revealed the thrust-reverser problem, TAM confirmed it had been deactivated properly and that government procedures allow jets in such condition to fly if they are inspected within 10 days.

Airport video showed TAM Flight 3054 speeding down the tarmac during a landing attempt more than four times as fast as other planes around the same time. Brazilian officials have said the pilot accelerated instead of slowing down after touching down, possibly indicating he was trying to get airborne again after realizing he would not be able to stop.

The Congonhas airport recently resurfaced its runway to provide better braking in rainy conditions. But the new surface had not dried enough for deep grooves to be cut in the tarmac to increase traction.

Federal prosecutors are seeking a court order to close Congonhas during the investigation, a move that could cause chaos throughout Brazil's air-travel system.

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