Celebrated psychic Jucelino Nobrega da Luz told jittery airline bosses that flight JJ3720 would develop engine trouble and crash in Sao Paulo, shortly after take-off bound for Brasilia this Wednesday.

TAM chiefs decided to take no chances on their flight safely reaching the Brasilia landing strip, with news agency AFP reporting that it had changed the flight code to  JJ4732 after receiving “indispensable information” and confirming that passenger security was paramount.

Nobrega da Luz claims that his past successes include predicting the deaths of legendary Brazilian racing driver Ayrton Senna in 1994 and of Princess Diana in 1997. He more recently prophesied the death of Brazilian presidential candidate Eduardo Campos in a plane crash in August.

Other predictions – such as a vaccine for AIDS being discovered in 2008 – have proved wide of the mark, however.

But it is not unusual for airlines to be superstitious over flight numbers. They never schedule a flight 13, and many avoid having a row 13. Other unfavoured numbers include 666 – the so-called ‘number of the beast’ referred to in the Book of Revelation – and 911, with its reminder of the US terror attacks of 2001.

Airlines also tend to ‘retire’ the numbers of planes that have been involved in crashes. For example, Malaysia Airlines retired the code MH370 “as a mark of respect” for those lost when a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing mysteriously disappeared over the Gulf of Thailand in March. It also axed code MH371, which would have been the number of the return flight.

In happier circumstances, US Airways dropped flight 1549 after a hero pilot successfully ditched his plane into the Hudson river in New York in 2009 after hitting a flock of geese.