- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 30, 2006

BRASILIA, Brazil (AP) — Military helicopters lowered a rescue team by rope yesterday into the remote Amazon jungle site where an airliner slammed into the ground, but authorities held out little hope of finding survivors among the 155 persons on board.

The team had begun clearing dense vegetation near the wreckage site so a helicopter could land. However, aviation officials said, “so far it is impossible to confirm the existence of survivors in the area.”

The president of Brazil’s airport authority, Jose Carlos Pereira, said the Boeing 737-800 jetliner and a private jet clipped each other before the Friday night crash of Gol airlines Flight 1907.

He said it was unlikely anyone on board the Gol flight from the jungle city of Manaus en route to Brasilia and Rio de Janeiro survived when the plane struck the ground, traveling at more than 300 mph. Nobody on the smaller plane, which was carrying a New York Times columnist, was injured.

If no survivors are found, it would be the deadliest air accident in Brazil’s history. In 1982, a Boeing 727 operated by Brazil’s now-defunct Vasp airline crashed in the northeastern city of Fortaleza, killing 137 persons.

Mr. Pereira said the jetliner may have either collided with a Brazilian-made Legacy executive jet or the two aircraft may have grazed each other.

“There was some kind of contact between the two aircraft and it is highly probable that this was the cause,” he said. “But we will only be absolutely certain after a full investigation.”

The smaller plane, which carries up to 16 passengers, was making its inaugural flight to the United States, where it had been purchased by an American company, said its manufacturer, Embraer.

It made an emergency landing, but no one on board was hurt, Jose Leonardo Mota, a spokesman for Brazil’s airport authority.

New York Times spokeswoman Diane McNulty said Times business travel columnist Joe Sharkey was one of seven persons aboard the Legacy jet, which was en route from Sao Jose dos Campos, near Sao Paulo, to the United States. Mr. Sharkey was on assignment in Brazil for a business magazine specializing in corporate jets.

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