Latin America & Caribbean

Brazil trial over plane crash that killed 199

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Media captionThe BBC's Leonardo Rocha explains the factors involved in the crash

A former director of the Brazilian Civil Aviation Agency has gone on trial in Sao Paulo over the deaths of 199 people in a plane crash six years ago.

Denise Abreu and two TAM Airlines senior employees have been accused of neglecting air transport safety by allowing the jet to land in heavy rain on the recently resurfaced runway.

The Airbus A320 passenger jet overshot the runway at Congonhas airport.

It caught fire as it hit a petrol station and a TAM warehouse.

The plane crossed a busy avenue before hitting the building in a built-up area of Brazil's largest city.

All 187 people on board flight JJ3054 were killed instantly. Twelve other people died on the ground, in the deadliest accident in Brazilian aviation history at the time.

Defence lawyers for Denise Abreu and the two former TAM directors - Marco Aurelio dos Santos and Alberto Fajerman - say their clients have no responsibility for the accident.

The prosecution says it was unsafe for the plane to land on the notoriously short runway as the cutting of grooves to channel away excess rainwater had not been completed.

The airport had reopened 20 days before the accident, which took place on the evening of 17 July 2007.

TAM is the country's largest airline. It merged with Chile's LAN a year ago.

'Complex investigation'

Image caption Congonhas airport is located in a built-up area of Sao Paulo

The six-year investigation has also looked into possible pilot error and mechanical failure.

Prosecutors say the A320 alarm system failed in the crucial moments before the crash and said the pilots had not been properly trained to deal with emergency landings.

TAM Airlines has admitted that two thrust reversers - used to reduce speed on landing airplanes - had been deactivated because they were defective.

The plane was travelling from Porto Alegre, in southern Brazil, and footage appeared to show it landing at a higher than usual speed.

The hearing of prosecution witnesses has begun in Sao Paulo, but defence witnesses are not expected in the stand until November, says the BBC's Julia Carneiro.

"The investigation has taken so long because the case is very complex. But we now demand a swift and fair trial," said Dario Scott, president of an association of families of victims of the accident.

"If that plane had not landed at Congonhas airport this tragedy would not have happened," he told O Estado de Sao Paulo newspaper.

Mr Scott lost a young daughter, Tais, in the plane crash.

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