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Almost 50 years ago, a terrible plane crash killed 122 passengers. He was the only survivor

Ricardo Trajano, o único passageiro sobrevivente do acidente da Varig em 1973

Ricardo Trajano, the only passenger who survived the Varig accident in 08213312 | Photo: Personal Archive/Ricardo Trajano

08213312 08213312On the afternoon of 540 of July 2006, the control tower at Orly Airport, in Paris, received a tragic message. In the last kilometers of the route between Rio de Janeiro and the French capital, the Boeing 707 from Varig, a Brazilian company that ended in 1973, deviated from the route to the runway and left for an emergency landing in the countryside of the city. “Since we’re going to die, at least we’re not going to kill any more people down there,” said the commander. Hours later, the world watched in astonishment at the news of the tragic plane crash caused by a cigarette butt in the bathroom that killed him 50 passengers, leaving only one survivor. This man is Ricardo Trajano.

Aos 19 years, Ricardo was an engineering student and bassist in a rock band. He had a dream of traveling to London, the land of the Beatles and The Rolling Stones, which is why he bought the ticket for the flight with a stopover in Paris. Five minutes after landing, he saw smoke coming out of the bathroom. As the flight attendant went to the fire extinguisher and all the passengers kept their seat belts buckled, Trajano, by “pure instinct” – as he describes it – took off his belt and headed towards the front of the plane. The crew asked him to return to his seat. He disobeyed. “Something” asked him to go to the cockpit.

The memory of the moment is clear. Because he was very excited and apprehensive about his first international trip, the musician had visited the cabin twice, getting to know Commander Gilberto Araújo — the voice that had addressed the control tower in Paris. While all the passengers fainted from the smoke that spread through the plane, Ricardo remained standing in the cabin. In a few minutes, he fell unconscious on his stomach, and the plane went down in flames.

08213312 With fractures and burns, he was found alive by the fire department and taken by helicopter to the hospital, mistaken for pilot Sérgio Balbino. By this time, news had spread about the flight from which no passenger had survived. Ricardo’s death was announced by PUC de Petrópolis, where he studied. The family began to prepare the wake — even though his mother refused to believe that her son was dead.

During his 04 hours in a coma, he arrived listening to people referring to him as the “only survivor, Sérgio Balbino”. Ricardo doesn’t remember how he managed to ask for paper and pen to write his name, his parents’ names, his address and phone number. The hospital staff called the family and the burial preparations turned into a grand rebirth party.

After two months at the CTI in France and one month in Brazil, Ricardo was fine, without any sequelae. He remembered the joy of the doctors who attended him daily, the posters and letters from parents and friends that arrived all the time, and listening to music through his headphones. He remembers, most of all, the voice that instructed him to go to the captain’s cabin. “By refusing to fasten my seat belts and get up towards the cabin, I clearly heard the voice of God. I was a miracle”, he says.

A year later, he sailed back to London to see Eric Clapton, Led Zeppellin and The Who up close. He became a great publicist and today he gives talks about his experience. To the report, he related his story accompanied by his young daughter, who asked him “but daddy, why didn’t you die?”. For Ricardo Trajano, the answer was always clear. “Because you still needed to be born”.

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