Plane Crash in Brazil

Up to 200 people have been killed after a passenger plane crashed and burst into flames at Brazil's busiest airport, in the heart of Sao Paulo.

Rescue crews said none of the 176 people on board the Airbus A320 could have survived, while more people were killed on the ground.

The TAM airliner skidded off the runway as it landed in wet weather, shot over a busy road and hit a fuel depot.

Concerns had been raised about the safety of the runway during heavy rain.

There had been persistent, heavy downpours in the two hours before the accident.

TAM Express flight 3054 was carrying 170 passengers and six crew when it attempted to land at Congonhas airport, which is mainly used for regional flights from other parts of Brazil and South America.

The plane was travelling to Sao Paulo, Brazil's financial capital, from Porto Alegre in the south of the country.

After touching down on the main runway at 1850 (2150 GMT), the passenger jet skidded before sliding across a busy road in a residential area.

It then struck a depot used by TAM for storing cargo and some fuel.

An eyewitness, TAM employee Elias Rodrigues Jesus, said the plane exploded after slamming into the depot.

"All of a sudden I heard a loud explosion, and the ground beneath my feet shook," he told the Associated Press news agency.

"I looked up and I saw a huge ball of fire, and then I smelled the stench of kerosene and sulphur."

A doctor at Sao Paulo's mortuary said 30 badly charred bodies had been brought in.

Sao Paulo State Governor Jose Serra said: "I was told that the temperature inside the plane was 1,000C [1,830F], so the chances of there being any survivors are practically nil."

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared three days of national mourning for the victims.

Safety concerns

The weather had been bad for much of the day and there has been concern for some time about safety at Congonhas during heavy rain.

On Monday afternoon, a smaller plane skidded off the runway onto the nearby grass in similar conditions.

In February, a judge briefly banned three types of large passenger jet from using the runway because it was too short to accommodate them, and because of concerns over the airport's drainage system

Pilots had complained that water was pooling on the surface of the landing strip, making braking difficult and occasionally causing planes to skid out of control.

Remedial work, including laying a new surface, has been carried out in recent months.

Air safety in Brazil has been a major issue since a crash last year when a passenger plane collided with an executive jet over the Amazon.

Some 154 people died in that incident, which was, at the time, the worst air crash in the country's history.

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