Sao Paulo Tragedy Brings Heroic Response
By Lt. Colonel W. John Jones –
International News Release
It was 9:45 a.m. in Sao Paulo and, in the office of Territorial Commander Colonel David Gruer, a special council meeting was underway when the news broke of the tragic crash of Flight 402 of TAM Airlines in a district close to Territorial Headquarters.
The plane from Sao Paulo to Rio de Janiero was carrying 89 passengers, mainly businessmen, and a crew of six. For some reason, the Fokker plane failed to get sufficient lift after taking off from Congonhas Airport, which is situated in the south of the city of Sao Paulo, and surrounded by a huge residential area.
According to its flight path, the plane would have crashed into a school where 800 children were beginning the day’s lessons. At the time of the crash, a group of children was doing physical education in the playground and it is believed the pilot, seeing them, veered his doomed plane sharply to the right where it ploughed through a street, crashed into a number of houses and cars, and exploded. Everyone on board was killed and a number of people perished in their homes.
At the time of writing, 107 charred bodies had been removed from the scene of the tragedy. The wonder is that 800 young lives had been saved.
On hearing the news flash, Gruer called an immediate halt to the council proceedings. Contact was made with the Civil Defense Headquarters, and the first group of officers sped to the scene. The Army’s emergency team arrived long before any of the other voluntary organizations, the first of which arrived some four and a half hours later. A second back-up group arrived very soon afterwards with a large supply of mineral water, milk, and blankets to cover the bodies.
Charred bodies were being pulled from the wrecked plane and buildings when the team set up its distribution point at the side of piles of rubble, where the rescue workers were engaged in their labors. Immediately, the hundreds of firefighters, civil defense workers and police were served by the group of Salvationists.
During the day, more backup groups arrived at intervals, bringing supplies of mineral water, soft drinks and lunches. The sun blazed overhead, adding yet another problem to the fume-laden atmosphere and the dust and rubble, all of which combined to cause emergency treatment to be given to a number of rescue workers and Salvation Army emergency team members.
While some countries have excellent emergency equipment to make possible an immediate and effective response to the disasters by Army emergency teams, in Brazil no such equipment exists and the same work has to be done without these resources, thus making the work much more difficult and, at times, almost impossible.
The Brazil Territory appeals to other territories to provide emergency vehicles and equipment to help this work in Brazil where, in Sao Paulo alone, three major emergencies have occurred in the past five months.