Houston Community News >> Brazilian Jet Missing After Mid-Air Collision

9/30/2006 By MICHAEL ASTOR -- A Brazilian jetliner with more than 150 people aboard was reported missing Friday over the Amazon jungle after colliding with a smaller executive jet, aviation authorities said.

Wladamir Caze, spokesman for the Brazilian aviation authority, told The Associated Press that Gol airlines flight 1907 left the jungle city of Manaus and disappeared after a collision. The Brazilian Aviation agency said the accident occurred in midair about 470 miles south of Manaus in the remote south western region of Para state.

News reports said the plane reportedly struck a Brazilian-made Legacy aircraft. The Legacy managed to land at the Caximbo base in southern Para, some 1,250 miles northwest of Rio, despite suffering damage.

Brazil's Defense Minister Waldir Pires told radio Bandnews there were more than 150 people on the plane. The jetliner had been scheduled to make a stop in Brasilia before heading to Rio's Antonio Tom Jobim International Airport. Manaus is a major river city in the heart of the Amazon rainforest some 1,700 miles northwest of Rio.

On Friday evening, Gol issued a brief statement confirming the plane's disappearance. 'GOL informs that flight 1907, that today left the Manaus airport at 15:35 (Brasilia time) this Friday, and was scheduled to arrive at the Brasilia airport at 18:12, has not had its landing confirmed until this moment. We are awaiting information from officials of the aviation authorities about the flight,' the statement said.

Brazilian airport authority President Jose Carlos Pereira said the air force was searching for the jet in a densely forested region. The Brazilian airforce said in a joint statement with the federal aviation and airport authorities that five planes had been sent to search for the missing aircraft. But it was not immediately clear whether searches had begun or would start at daylight.

Pereira said in an interview with CBN radio that a local farmer reported seeing a large plane flying low. According to the Globo news agency, some 70 family members and friends of the victims had been moved to a warehouse owned by Gol at the Brasilia airport to await news.

Seven passengers were scheduled to disembark in Rio de Janeiro, where airport officials had put those waiting to greet them in a separate room. The flight between Manaus and Rio is popular with foreign tourists but there was no immediate word on the nationalities of those aboard.

The Embraer Legacy 600 is a Brazilian-made executive jet that carries up to 16 passengers. Col. Ramon Bueno, head of region flight protection in Sao Paulo, told Estado that if there were no survivors, it could be the worst air accident ever in Brazil. The worst to date occurred in 1982 when a Vasp 747 crashed in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, killing 137 people.

The accident occurred in the same region where a Varig 737-200 crashed in 1989 with 54 people aboard with 46 survivors. It was the first major incident for Gol Linhas Aereas Intelligentes SA, an upstart Brazilian airline that took to the skies in 2001 with just six Boeing 737s in 2001, serving seven Brazilian cities.

Gol has grown exponentially since then, dramatically boosting its fleet using the same model of plane to keep costs down while giving passengers cold box lunches and soft drinks instead of alcohol. The company is now Brazil's second largest airline after Tam Linhas Aereas SA, with more than 500 daily flights within Brazil, and to Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

It rapidly gained market share by offering low-cost tickets, modeling its service after low-cost carriers in the United States and Europe. Gol, started by the heirs of a successful bus company, also benefited from the demise of Brazil's flagship airline Varig, which virtually disintegrated earlier this year under a mountain of debt.

(Contributed by Associated Press)