Author`s name Alex Naumov

Plane skids off the runway killing 200 in Brazil

As many as 200 people were feared dead Tuesday night after an airplane skidded off the runway of a Sao Paulo airport, crossed a nearby avenue, slammed into a fuel depot and burst into flames.

Firetrucks and ambulances raced to try to rescue victims from the TAM airlines Airbus 320 and the fuel depot, where about 20 employees had been working, according to reports on Brazilian television.

Official casualty reports were not immediately released. But Sao Paulo state Gov. Jose Serra told reporters Tuesday night that the chances of survivors among the 175 people aboard the plane were highly unlikely. A fire department official told the city's mayor that he expected 200 deaths in all, according to the Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper's Web site.

"I was told that the temperature inside the plane was 1,000 degrees [Celsius, or 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit], so the chances of there being any survivors are practically nil," Serra told reporters at the airport, according to the Associated Press.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared three days of national morning for the victims, and presidential spokesman Marcelo Baumbach told reporters late Tuesday that no death toll or cause would be immediately released because it was premature to do so.

"His worries now are with the victims and the relatives of the victims. That is main concern," Baumbach said, referring to Lula.

The crash - Brazil's second major disaster in less than a year - highlights the country's increasing aviation woes. In September, a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 collided with an executive jet over the Amazon rainforest, causing the passenger jet to crash, killing 154 people, Reuters reports.

TAM Airlines said there were 176 people on board the Airbus-320 that crashed - 170 passengers and six crew members. A Brazilian congressman was among those on the flight, his aide said.

Destroyed in the blaze were a building housing TAM's freight service, another commercial building and some houses.

Congonhas, the second-largest airport serving the Brazilian financial centre Sao Paulo, was shut down following the accident. Residents of the Sao Paul neighbourhood of Moema, adjoining the airport, reported panic during the explosions set off by the crash.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva called an emergency meeting of his cabinet in Brasilia shortly after the accident.

One day earlier, another plane slid off the runway at the same airport and came to rest to in a grassy area nearby, dpa reports.

Source: agencies

Prepared by Alexander Timoshik