Marco Maia, a senior member of the panel investigating the July 17 crash that killed 199 people as well as Brazil's long-running air traffic crisis said yesterday the throttle ''was not in the correct position.'' But he added this did not necessarily mean human error, as some local media have suggested.
''It is irresponsible to say it was pilot error. ... All the standard landing procedures were carried out. It is premature to say the pilots were responsible,'' Maia was quoted as saying on the congressional Web site.
Maia said aircraft equipment failure had not been ruled out, and that it was possible the pilots had shifted the throttle lever correctly but that the plane's computer had failed to respond.
The report casts doubt on initial speculation that a slippery runway was the major cause of the accident. Aviation authorities were criticized for opening a recently repaved runway without the grooves that allow rainwater to drain more quickly and help avoid skidding.
''The runway had a smaller influence. It may have contributed, but was not the dominant factor,'' Maia said.
An Airbus A320 operated by Brazilian carrier TAM Linhas Aereas barreled off the wet runway while landing at Congonhas airport in Sao Paulo on July 17, crashed into a cargo terminal and burst into flames. All 187 people aboard and at least 12 more on the ground were killed.
Data from the flight recorder suggests that one of the thrust levers was in the ''accelerate'' position when it should have been switched to idle because one of the aircraft's thrust reversers was inoperative. TAM had acknowledged that it had a defective reverser, which is used to help brake.
Airbus issued a safety advisory to its customers last week stressing the need for pilots to follow proper landing procedures when a thrust reverser is not working.
The congressional probe read out loud yesterday the last 12 minutes of cockpit conversation, as horrified viewers followed the drama on national television.
The transcript showed the pilots were aware of the disabled thrust reverser but were unable to brake the plane.
''Reverse one only,'' ''Slow down, slow down,'' and ''I can't, I can't,'' the pilots shouted. The last statements recorded were ''Oh my God!'' and ''Oh, no!'' The committee decided to make public the cockpit transcript, but it examined the remaining data from the flight recorder in a closed-door session.
Aviation authorities are also looking at other possible causes of the accident, including the runway condition and other mechanical problems.
Air travel in Brazil has been in chaos since 154 people were killed last September when a Boeing 737 clipped wings in midair with a private jet and crashed in the Amazon.