SAO PAULO, Brazil -- Recovery workers pulled bodies from mounds of blackened rubble yesterday as this metropolis poured out its grief and anger over a Tuesday night plane crash that many Brazilians saw as both predictable and avoidable.
Caustic smoke billowed all day from the remains of this nation's worst airline disaster, which occurred when a TAM Airlines Airbus 320 carrying 186 passengers and crew slid off a rain-slick runway at Congonhas Airport, went over a major thoroughfare, crashed into a gas station and a cargo terminal, and exploded in a deadly fireball.
Officials said about 170 bodies had been found by yesterday afternoon. The toll could climb as high as 200, including people killed on the ground.
There has been confusion about the casualties. Tuesday, officials said 176 people had been aboard the aircraft and at least 15 had been killed on the ground.
Brazil's aviation industry already was being relentlessly criticized by a public fed up with erratic service and frightened by a slew of crashes and near-misses. Ten months ago, 154 people were killed in the collision of a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 and a small jet over the Amazon.
Several people at Congonhas expressed frustration yesterday with the industry's seemingly endless problems and the government's inability to resolve them.
"Everything is about greed, and our rulers are very irresponsible," said Manthos Evangelos Manthou, 66, who lives in the densely populated neighborhood that surrounds the airport.
Some people mentioned the apparent failure of the agency that manages Brazil's airports to complete a long-delayed project to repave a badly worn runway, which has been a focus of early speculation about what might have caused the crash.
The runway was reopened 18 days ago after being closed for two months for re-grooving, an improvement meant to channel away water and give planes more traction when landing. Monday, a small turboprop plane briefly spun out of control while landing.
The runway repeatedly has been criticized by aviation experts as too short to accommodate large jets, particularly in bad weather.
"We've been feeling something was going to happen," said Rosivaldo Oliveira, 35, who was traveling with his daughter on a TAM flight from Sao Paulo to the northeast city of Salvador. Tuesday's crash, he said, "was very predictable."
Others said that when Congonhas was built, the surrounding area was mainly open land. Today the airport is surrounded by high-rises, adding another challenge for pilots.
"When they created the airport, there weren't all the residential structures around," said the Rev. Jose Augusto Souza, 47, a local parish priest, who had come to the airport yesterday to offer comfort and condolences.
By evening, officials had been able to identify only nine victims' bodies. Firefighters' efforts to search the ruined buildings were hampered by fears that the structures could collapse.
Within hours of the crash, a political backlash was building across Brazil. Congressional opposition leaders demanded the resignation of Defense Minister Waldir Pires. Brazil's air force oversees the country's air traffic controllers, who have grown increasingly disenchanted with their working conditions.
Reed Johnson writes for the Los Angeles Times.