(Recasts and adds context)
By Raymond Colitt
BRASILIA, July 20 Brazil's president pledged a
thorough investigation into the plane crash that killed as many
as 200 people in a televised address Friday that aimed to blunt
criticism of his response to the country's deadliest aviation
President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva's appearance, the first
since the crash on Tuesday, followed a flurry of complaints
that Lula had been absent since the disaster to avoid
jeopardizing his high approval ratings.
"Let our affection and solidarity help to alleviate the
irreparable pain" of relatives and friends of those who died,
Lula said. "The government is and will be doing all that is
possible and impossible to find the causes of the accident."
Despite his warm words, Lula looked stiff and lacking the
usual charisma that have made him one of Brazil's most popular
Earlier, a close adviser was filmed apparently celebrating
reports suggesting the crash was caused by a mechanical error
and not government negligence during a long-running aviation
Lula spoke after the focus of the investigation shifted
from a faulty runway that could imply government responsibility
to potential pilot error or mechanical failure.
Since the crash of an Airbus A320 EAD.PA at Sao Paulo's
Congonhas airport, Brazilians have been clamoring for
explanations and someone to take responsibility for the
country's second major aviation accident in 10 months.
Lula, elected to a second term last year, had not made a
public appearance or visited the crash site, unlike his
longtime political rival, Sao Paulo state Gov. Jose Serra, who
comforted mourning family members.
Marco Aurelio Garcia, a foreign policy adviser to the
president, was shown on national television on Thursday making
obscene gestures after news that pointed to problems with the
braking system of the doomed A320.
Garcia apologized, saying it was his private expression of
indignation at attempts to blame the government for the crash.
The opposition Brazilian Social Democracy Party said
Garcia's gesture was "an offense to the Brazilian people."
The incident is the latest in a series of apparent blunders
by members of Lula's Cabinet in the country's aviation crisis,
which has seen chronic delays and flight cancellations.
Finance Minister Guido Mantega has tried to put a positive
spin on the crisis, calling it a byproduct of Brazil's
improving economy, and Tourism Minister Marta Suplicy said
irritated travelers should "relax and enjoy."
Lula has a history of retreating at difficult times. During
a previous aviation crisis that disrupted air travel at the end
of last year, he took a beach vacation.
When he was booed during the opening ceremony of the
Pan-American Games in Rio de Janeiro last Friday, he scrapped
plans for a widely expected speech inaugurating the games.
The government announced measures on Friday to help reduce
air traffic at the domestic Congonhas airport, including
restrictions on charter flights and stopovers. It will ban new
international routes to Sao Paulo and reroute flights from
Congonhas to the city's international airport, Guarulhos.
Lula acknowledged Congonhas was overloaded and the air
sector was "going through difficulties," but said Brazil's air
travel safety was compatible with international standards.
The government also said it was studying the construction
of a new airport in the greater Sao Paulo area.
TAM Linhas Aereas TAMM4.SATAM.N said late on Thursday
the doomed aircraft had been flying without one of its thrust
reversers, which help slow the plane at landing. But the
company said the device, which was turned off after a
malfunction last week, was not essential to safe landing.
TAM's chief executive, Marco Antonio Bologna, had said on
Wednesday the aircraft was in perfect condition.
TAM initially said 186 people were on the flight but
revised the figure on Friday to 187.
An Airbus spokeswoman in France said an A320 could fly for
up to 10 days with a broken thrust reverser. Aviation experts
say the device is complementary but not necessary to braking
and that it is usually safe to fly without it.
(Additional reporting by Isabel Versiani in Brasilia and Tim
Hepher in Paris and Andrei Khalip in Rio de Janeiro)