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Pilot in Brazilian crash tried to abort landing, official says

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  • NEW: U.S. House has moment of silence for Brazilian lawmaker killed in crash
  • 158 bodies recovered; eight identified, federal police say
  • Pilot overshot runway in rain and tried to take off again, official says
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SAO PAULO, Brazil (CNN) -- An initial probe of a Brazilian plane crash that killed nearly 200 people suggests the airliner's pilot tried to abort a landing, an official said Wednesday.

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A firefighter walks Wednesday amid the wreckage of the TAM airliner that slammed into a building.

Recovery workers searched wreckage for victims of Tuesday's fiery crash of a TAM Airlines Airbus A320 that was attempting to land in a driving rainstorm at Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport. The aircraft careened across a multilane highway before slamming into a building and bursting into flames.

According to media reports, both of the jet's "black boxes" -- the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder -- have been found, said Sen. Demostenes Torres, a member of a congressional commission set up months ago to investigate aviation safety.

Investigators earlier said at least one of the boxes was sent for analysis to the United States' National Transportation Safety Board, which is aiding the investigation.

Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared three days of national mourning for the nation's worst air disaster.

Among the dead was Juilo Redecker, a member of the Brazilian Chamber of Deputies and the Brazilian House minority leader.

In Washington, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi led a moment of silence in Redecker's honor, saying she and other House members had planned to meet with Redecker at the U.S. Capitol. It was unclear when that meeting was to have taken place.

The Associated Press spoke to a fire official about how the crash may have occurred.

"What appears to have happened is that he [the pilot] didn't manage to land and he tried to take off again," said Capt. Marcos, a fire department spokesman who would identify himself only by rank and first name in accordance with department guidelines.

CNN's Harris Whitbeck was at the scene of the crash Wednesday.

The building that the plane hit "is a concrete structure that looks like it was literally blown out," Whitbeck reported. "The inside is completely charred, and there's smoke pouring out of it." Video Watch plane as it landed and crashed »

TAM has released a list of passengers, crew and employees, including seven TAM workers who it said were killed on the ground. The airline said Wednesday that 186 people were on board the plane. So far, 158 bodies have been recovered but only eight have been identified, federal police said.

"Family members have gathered at a nearby hotel, where they're apparently being taken care of by airline officials," Whitbeck said.

According to the initial investigation, the plane's pilot apparently overshot the runway and tried to take off again. Some witnesses said they saw the plane skid across Avenida Washington Luis, a freeway adjacent to the runway, before it slammed into the building, which served as a depot for TAM's express courier service.

"One lane of the highway remains blocked off by emergency vehicles," Whitbeck said. The roof of a gas station adjacent to the TAM building was damaged by the fire, but the station and its gas pumps remained intact.

Authorities have ruled out any chance that anyone on board the airliner survived. It will be difficult to recover the bodies because of the massive destruction caused by intense fire that officials said reached 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (about 1,000 Celsius).

The disaster has renewed lingering questions about the airport's runways. Investigators said they will look into whether Brazilian aviation authorities rushed to reopen the airport's recently resurfaced runway, which had been closed for several weeks for repairs.

Airbus A320

• 1,700 in operation as of June 2007
• Typical passenger seating -- 150
• Typical two-class cabin layout
• Range of 5,550km/3,500 miles
• Overall length 123 feet, 3 inches
• Height 38 feet, 7 inches
• Cabin length 90 feet, 3 inches
• Wingspan 111 feet, 10 inches
• Fuel capacity 6,300 gallons

Source: Airbus.com

Flight JJ3054 was arriving at Sao Paulo's Congonhas Airport from Porto Alegre in southern Brazil, the airline said. TAM Airlines said that of the 186 people on board, 18 were TAM employees, six were crew members and 162 were passengers.

Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport is notorious for having short, slippery runways, reported CNN's Miles O'Brien, who is an amateur pilot. Runways at Congonhas were recently resurfaced, but the cutting of grooves to channel rainwater off the pavement had not been completed.

Just Monday, a small plane skidded off a runway at Congonhas, which is designed to best handle short commuter flights for Brazil's large domestic air market.

Tom Hennigan, a reporter from The Times of London in Sao Paulo, told CNN that flying into Congonhas "is like you are literally flying past people's living rooms in apartment blocks. Then you land on the runway. It is completely surrounded by the central part of Sao Paulo city. This is not an airport out on the edge of the city. This is right in the city."

In February, a Brazilian court banned large jets at the busy airport because of safety concerns. But there was an outcry about limiting the convenient, busy airport, and an appeals court reversed the ruling.

The crash took place less than a year after a midair collision between an Embraer Legacy 600 jet and a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 that killed 154 people.

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September's disaster set off a widespread debate about the country's air-traffic-control system, including whether the military should remain in charge.

In 1996, a TAM jet plowed through a densely populated neighborhood just after takeoff from Congonhas, killing all 96 people aboard. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Harris Whitbeck contributed to this report.

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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