SAO PAULO, Brazil &

The pilot of an airliner that burst into flames after trying to land on a short, rain-slicked runway apparently tried to take off again, barely clearing rush-hour traffic on a major highway. The death toll rose today to 189 and could climb higher.




The TAM airlines Airbus-320 flight that originated in Porto Alegre in southern Brazil on Tuesday cleared the airport fence at the end of the runway and the busy highway but slammed into a gas station and a TAM building, causing an inferno.




The 6,362-foot runway at Sao Paulo's Congonhas airport has been repeatedly criticized as dangerously short. Two planes slipped off it in rainy weather just a day earlier. Pilots call it the "aircraft carrier" &

it's so short and surrounded by heavily populated neighborhoods that they're told to take off again and fly around if they overshoot the first 1,000 feet of runway.




contrast, New York's LaGuardia Airport has a 7,003-foot runway that accommodates similar planes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.




"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 only identify himself by rank and first name in accordance with department guidelines.




Temperatures reached 1,830 degrees inside the plane, and officials said there was no way passengers could have survived.




"All of a sudden I heard a loud explosion, and the ground beneath my feet shook," said Elias Rodrigues Jesus, a TAM worker who was walking nearby when he saw the crash. "I looked up and I saw a huge ball of fire, and then I smelled the stench of kerosene and sulfur."




TAM Linhas Aereas SA said 186 were on the Airbus-320 &

162 passengers, 18 TAM employees and a crew of six &

and officials said three bodies of people killed on the ground had been recovered. There were fears of more dead on the ground, with 14 others taken to hospitals, where their conditions were not known.




Ninety badly charred bodies, along with the flight data recorder, had been pulled from the wreckage by midmorning, firefighters said.




Emergency workers have recovered 117 badly charred bodies, along with the plane's flight data recorder, said Antonio de Olin, cheif of the police station at the Congonhas airport. Forensic doctors were gathering information from relatives to help with identifications, he said.




President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva declared three days of national mourning for Brazil's second major air disaster in less than a year. In September, a Gol Aerolinhas Inteligentes SA Boeing 737 and an executive jet collided over the Amazon rain forest, killing 154 people. Wednesday's crash now replaces that tragedy as Brazil's worst air disaster.




Silva's government is under increasing pressure to deal with Brazil's aviation woes. In September, a Gol Airlines Boeing 737 collided with an executive jet over the Amazon rainforest, causing the passenger jet to crash, killing 154 people.