RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil – A Gol airlines jet with around 150 people aboard was missing Friday over the Brazilian Amazon after a midair collision with a smaller executive jet, Brazilian aviation authorities said.
Wladamir Caze, spokesman for the Brazilian aviation authority, said Gol flight 1907 left the jungle city of Manaus and disappeared after a collision. It had been scheduled to land in Brasilia before heading to Rio de Janeiro's Antonio Tom Jobim International Airport.
Manaus is a major river city in the heart of the Amazon rainforest some 1,700 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
Brazilian airport authority Infraero President Jose Carlos Pereira said the air force was searching for the jet in a densely forested region.
The Gol jet reportedly struck a Brazilian-made Legacy aircraft near the Serra do Cachimbo, region in Para state. The Legacy plane was able to land at the Cachimbo base in southern Para despite suffering damage.
The Embraer Legacy 600 is a Brazilian-made executive jet that carries up to 16 passengers.
Pereira said in a radio interview to CBN that a local farmer reported seeing a large plane flying low.
Brazil's Defense Minister Waldir Pires told radio Bandnews, that a search and rescue operation already was launched.
He said there were more than 150 people on the plane.
The Brazilian Aviation agency said in a statement that the collision occurred in midair about 170 miles south of the city of Sao Felix de Araguaia in the remote south western region of Para state, some 1,250 miles northwest of Rio de Janeiro.
According to the Globo news agency some 70 family members and friends of the victims had been moved to a warehouse owned by Gol at the Brasilia airport to await news.
Sgt. Paulo Cruz told Globo that two military planes would begin searching for the missing aircraft in the morning. He said it was unclear if the plane had crashed or performed a forced landing.
The accident occurred in the same region where a Varig 737-200 crashed in 1989 with 54 people aboard with 46 survivors.
It was the first major incident for Gol Linhas Aereas Intelligentes SA, an upstart Brazilian airline that took to the skies in 2001 with just six Boeing 737s in 2001, serving seven Brazilian cities.
Gol has grown exponentially since then, dramatically boosting its fleet using the same model of plane to keep costs down while giving passengers cold box lunches and soft drinks instead of alcohol. The company is now Brazil's second largest airline after Tam Linhas Aereas SA, with more than 500 daily flights within Brazil and to Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.
It rapidly gained market share by offering low-cost tickets, modeling its service after low-cost carriers in the United States and Europe. Gol, started by the heirs of a successful bus company, also benefited from the demise of Brazil's flagship airline Varig, which virtually disintegrated earlier this year under a mountain of debt.