You read it here a month ago that this would happen. Yesterday, as soon as it became known that a federal court ordered the release of the American pilots' passports by Friday, air traffic control in Brazil, already hobbed since the Sept. 29 disaster by a work-to-rule protest by controllers ... well, it crashed.
Last night, operations at two major airports, Brasilia and Belo Horizonte, were shut down, and operations at Sao Paulo were sharply curtailed, because controllers reported that "equipment failure" prevented them from maintaining contact with aircraft.
"A communications system in Brasilia inexplicably broke down, reducing the number of radio frequencies and making it hard for controllers to reach pilots flying commercial jets in some of Brazil's busiest air-traffic corridors," Brazzil.com reports, quoting the Agencia Brazil news agency.
Passengers are rising up. At the airport in Brasilia, stranded passengers put on red clown noses and blew whistles in protest, according to press reports. (And no, I don't know how or where they obtained a supply of clown noses and whistles on short notice. That sort of thing usually takes some planning).
"There has never been a collapse like this," the chief of the aviation authority, Milton Zuanazzi, is quoted as saying on the Web site of Folha de S. Paulo, Brazil's biggest newspaper.
Reuters quotes Franco Ferreira, a retired Air Force colonel and aviation expert, as saying" "There is no doubt this was intentional."
It was posited here last month that the air-traffic controllers might intensify their protests and threaten to shut down Brazil's air traffic system if, as has now happened, blame shifts from the American pilots and toward the actual cause of the Sept. 29 crash: Air traffic control.
The Usual Suspects, among them Wonderful Waldir Pires, have rushed in spinning like so many Sugar Plums from "The Nutcracker." Not to worry! they are hollering. This is just a mere technicality! Be patient!
This is insanity. I hope I can soon retire from covering the Brazil rabbit hole beat, and I shall, once the pilots are out and home. Hopefully, that happens Friday night.
But while I plan my retirement from Brazil (with hope and faith), let me quote a few comments on this sad and sorry mess by the respected Brazilian journalist Alberto Dines, writing in the current issue of the Brazilian press journal Observatorio da Imprensa:
"With each passing day, new evidence: the government, through the Defense Minister, deceived the Brazilian nation for two months. The worst Brazilian air tragedy is linked to a political scandal of great proportions -- all of this with the complicity of a large part of the media, which, once again, published groundless charges expressed by cunning and/or irresponsibile authorities.
Defense Minister Pires, Mr. Dines said, "politicized this tragedy from the very beginning. And now he is paying for that."