Brazilian authorities are still searching for survivors and recovering the remains of victims from the crash in the dense Amazon jungle of a GOL Boeing 737-800 jet carrying 155 passengers and crew.
The seven Brazilian soldiers who spent the night in the Amazon jungle at the crash site resumed their rescue operations on Sunday morning, according to the EFE news wire.
The soldiers, who were joined by 68 others and 10 Caiapo Indians on Sunday, have scouted a large portion of the area without finding any signs of survivors in Friday’s crash. The seven-man team has been trying since Saturday - and the additional troops expanded the effort on Sunday - to clear part of the dense jungle to make a landing zone for helicopters, officials said.
The rescue teams reached the site by rappelling down from helicopters hovering above the thick jungle canopy as the area is inaccessible by road.
Air traffic controllers lost contact with the plane about 5 p.m. (2000 GMT) on Friday.
The fragmentary remains of the jet were found on Saturday in a remote and difficult-to-access part of the jungle on the Parque de Xingu Indian reservation some 200 kilometers (124 miles) southeast of the municipality of Peixoto de Azevedo in west-central Mato Grosso state.
The first rescue team which reached the site on Saturday was ordered to remain at the scene overnight to ward off any animals that might try to disturb the victims’ remains.
Despite the fact that the air force, which is in charge of the rescue, has said that it is still not possible to rule out survivors in what appeared to be a devastating crash, the chances of finding anyone alive among the fragmentary wreckage is considered - at best - remote by some authorities but, for all practical purposes, nil by others.
On Sunday, forensic personnel sent by the Legal Medicine Institute in Brasilia were among those scheduled to join the rescue efforts, along with the group of 10 Indians from the Parque de Xingu reservation who offered to help since they know the jungle terrain.
The military team at the site reported that some of the bodies they found were so damaged that they were unrecognizable, and the Health Ministry therefore decided to suspend some of the formalities otherwise required regarding the removal of corpses from accident locations.
The bodies will be removed from the site on helicopters and taken to a nearby farm, then loaded into refrigerated trucks and taken some 280 kilometers (194 miles) to the Caximbo air force base in the Amazonian state of Para where initial attempts to identify them will be carried out.
From there, they will be transported by plane to Brasilia for more complete identification work, according to officials.
The entire operation is projected to last between four days and a week, various sources said, but it depends on how long it takes the soldiers now at the crash site to clear portions of the thick jungle nearby to use as a helicopter landing zone.
By midday on Sunday, no bodies had yet been recovered, but the air force said that the task would begin later in the day.
The soldiers on site have not yet ruled out the possibility that there may be survivors of the horrific accident, but given the evident force of the impact, which appears to have virtually pulverized the plane, not to mention the fire which followed, that possibility was looking less and less likely.
“Obviously, we never lose hope, but as time passes it’s going to be more difficult to find survivors,” said the head of the National Civil Aviation Agency, Milton Zuanazzi, in an interview given on Sunday to impart details of the rescue operations and crash investigation.
According to press reports, the soldiers dispatched to the area have reported that finding survivors among the wreckage would be a “miracle,” adding that the odor of burned bodies permeated the area.
Once helicopters are able to land in the area, about 200 members of rescue and recovery teams can be ferried in to the site to begin removing the remains.
The other soldiers, police and firefighters who will participate in the recovery currently are at a staging area on the Jarina farm some 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the crash site.
The task of the recovery workers will be to load the remains onto helicopters, which will take them to Jarina, which is accessible by road, where the refrigerated trucks will be located.
If all 155 people on board the flight are confirmed to have perished, as seems likely, the crash will be the worst in Brazil’s history.
To date, Brazil’s worst air accident occurred when a VASP Boeing 727-200 crashed in June 1982 shortly before landing in Fortaleza, the capital of Ceara state, killing the 142 people on board.
The GOL aircraft, which was flying the route between Manaus and Rio de Janeiro with a scheduled stop in Brasilia, may have hit a Legacy executive jet carrying seven people that was flying to the United States, but the much smaller plane was able to land safely despite damage to one wing and the tail.
Regarding the cause of the accident, Zuanazzi said Sunday that it was still not possible to confirm if the planes collided in flight, but he said that the Legacy’s occupants reported that suddenly they saw a shadow and heard a huge roar before feeling an impact.
“The possibility of a crash is rather large,” Zuanazzi said, but he added that the cause of the larger jet’s plunge to earth would only be able to be determined through analysis of the black boxes of both planes.
The Legacy’s black box has been sent to a technical center in the city of Campinas for analysis, but crash investigators have not yet reported finding that of the Boeing.
Relatives of the passengers and crew on board the plane on Sunday drafted and released a letter demanding that the authorities provide “a clearer and immediate position on the real situation of the accident,” and they also requested an audience with Defense Minister Waldir Pires, whose ministry has jurisdiction over air policy.
Details from GOL: Passenger Destination and Crew Profile Flight 1907
GOL provides more details about the passengers and crew on board Flight 1907, a Boeing 737-800, which suffered an accident this Friday, approximately 30 kilometers from the township of Peixoto de Azevedo, in the State of Mato Grosso.
PEOPLE ON BOARD: 155
(Including four children under 12 years of age and an infant - 11 months)
FLIGHT CREW: 6
PASSENGER DESTINATIONS (CITIES):
Brasilia 65 and 1 infant
Rio de Janeiro 28
Porto Alegre 8
Sao Paulo 4
Belo Horizonte 1
Captain Decio Chaves Junior, born on February 23rd, 1962, 44 years old, married.
Mr. Chaves Jr. started his career as a pilot in 1980 and joined Transbrasil in February 1986. As Captain, he flew Boeing 727 and 737 aircrafts.
A GOL pilot for the last five years, he joined the company on October 22nd, 2001, flying Boeing 737 NG’s. He was also currently working as a route instructor.
Total hours flown: 14,900
Hours flying Boeing 737 NG: 3,900
Co-pilot Thiago Jordao Cruso, born on April 20th, 1977, 29 years old, single.
Mr. Cruso started his piloting career in 1999.
A GOL employee for more than four years, he joined the company in June 2002.
Total hours flown: 3,850