Protesters say the government has failed to
invest in air travel infrastructure [Reuters]
Thousands of Brazilians including relatives of some of the 199 victims of the country’s worst-ever air disaster have staged a rally protesting the government’s handling of the affair.

Organisers estimated 8,000 people took part in the march through Sao Paulo to the site at the city’s Congonhas airport, where an Airbus A320 crashed two weeks ago.

Many carried flowers and placards honouring the victims while others chanted slogans against the government of Luis Inacio Lula da Silva, Brazil's president.

Lula’s administration has come under sharp criticism for its handling of the second major air disaster in a year and a crisis in the country’s air travel systems that has persisted for months.

Mauricio Pereira, the father of one of the crash victims, wore a T-shirt on the march with a picture of his 22-year-old daughter, Mariana, a first-year medical student who was aboard TAM airlines Flight 3054 when it skidded off a runway at Congonhas and crashed into an air cargo building.

Pereira  carried a banner reading "corrupt and incompetent officials killed my daughter," as he and other demonstrators walked 10km from a park to the crash site just outside what is Brazil’s busiest airport.

Pereira and hundreds of others threw flowers toward the gutted building, and shook hands and hugged firefighters who had retrieved the charred remains of the victims.

The crowd then recited the Lord's Prayer in unison, sang Brazil's national anthem and demanded Lula's resignation.

Doubt

Over the weekend the news weekly Veja reported that information from the flight recorders showed one of the A320's throttles was in the accelerate position instead of idle while touching down, suggesting pilot error could be to blame for the crash.

Veja did not say how it obtained the information. The recorders were analysed in the United States and brought back to Brazil last week.

But many marchers said they doubted the report because it would ease pressure on Lula whose administration came under criticism after the crash for failing to invest in airport infrastructure over the past five years despite a boom in commercial travel.

"It's the best thing for Lula that could have happened," Gabriela Paulino, a lawyer taking part in the march, said. "Now they're going to blame the pilot because he's dead."

Brazil’s air force command said in a statement it was too early to jump to conclusions regarding the cause of the crash.

TAM had acknowledged the reverser, which helps to slow down the plane on landing, had been broken, but said the aircraft was safe to fly like that.

The crash subsequently caused further air travel chaos in Brazil, with cancellations and delays at Congonhas causing a ripple effect nationwide and sparking angry scenes at ticket counters.

Lula appointed a new defence minister, Nelson Jobim, last Wednesday to overhaul Brazil's ailing aviation sector. The defence ministry and the air force oversee air traffic and airports in Brazil.

Last September in Brazil, 154 people were killed when a Boeing 737 clipped wings in midair with a private jet and crashed into the Amazon jungle.

Source: Agencies