A chartered plane with a Brazilian first division football team crashed near Medellin while on its way to the finals of a regional tournament, killing 71 people, Colombian officials said. Six people survived.
The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, operated by a charter airline named LaMia, declared an emergency and lost radar contact just before 10pm on Monday (0300 GMT) because of an electrical failure, aviation authorities said.
The aircraft, which had departed from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was transporting the Chapecoense team from southern Brazil for the first leg of a two-game Copa Sudamericana final against AtleticoNacional of Medellin, which was due to be played on Wednesday.
“What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy,” Medellin mayor Federico Gutierrez said from the search and rescue command centre.
The club said in a brief statement on its Facebook page that “may God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests travelling with our delegation”.
Dozens of rescuers working through the night were initially heartened after pulling three passengers alive from the wreckage.
But as the hours passed, and heavy rainfall and low visibility grounded helicopters and complicated efforts to reach the mountainside crash site, the mood soured to the point that authorities had to freeze until dusk what was by then a body recovery operation.
Chapecoense players before their Copa Sudamericanasemifinal against Argentina’s San Lorenzo on November 2 CREDIT: AFP
Among the survivors was a Chapecoense defender named Alan Ruschel, who doctors said suffered spinal injuries. Two goalkeepers, Marcos Danilo and Jackson Follmann, as well as a member of the team’s delegation and a Bolivian flight attendant, also survived the crash. However Danilo died a short time later.
Also killed was Tiago de Rocha Viera, a 22-year-old forward. A video spread online of Viera’s thrilled reaction to learning one week before the crash that his wife Graziele was pregnant with their first child.
The plane was carrying 68 passengers and nine crew members. Four other people listed on the flight manifest did not board the plane. Twenty-one of the passengers were journalists, of whom just one survived.
Local radio said the same British-made aircraft transported Argentina’s national squad for a match earlier this month in Brazil, and previously had transported Venezuela’s national team.
The black boxes were found, and could play a crucial role as investigators try and determine what caused the crash.
Alfredo Bocanegra, the head of Colombia’s aviation authority, said initial reports suggest the aircraft was suffering electrical problems although investigators were also looking into an account from one of the survivors that the plane had run out of fuel about five minutes from its expected landing at Jose Maria Cordova airport outside Medellin.
The team, from the small city of Chapeco, was in the middle of a fairy tale season. It joined Brazil’s first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it last week to the Copa Sudamericana final – the equivalent of the Uefa Europa League tournament – after defeating two of Argentina’s fiercest squads, San Lorenzo and Independiente, as well as Colombia’s Junior.
“This morning I said goodbye to them and they told me they were going after the dream, turning that dream into reality,” a Chapecoense board member told TV Globo. “The dream was over early this morning.”
The team is so modest that its 22,000-seat arena was ruled by tournament organizers too small to host the final match, which was instead moved to a stadium 300 miles (480 kilometers) to the north in the city of Curitiba.
“This is unbelievable, I am walking on the grass of the stadium and I feel like I am floating,” Andrei Copetti, a team spokesman, told The Associated Press. “No one understands how a story that was so amazing could suffer such a devastating reversal. For many people here reality has still not struck.”