Seventy-five of the 81 passengers on the plane carrying this Brazilian soccer team were killed early Tuesday morning when the plane crashed. They were their way to the finals of a regional tournament, Colombia officials said.
It’s been reported that the plane declared an emergency at 10 p.m. Monday night over an electrical failure.
The southern Brazilian squad was set to play Wednesday in the first out of two-game finals against Atletico Nacional of Medellin. This tournament holds some of the top soccer teams in South America.
“It’s a tragedy of huge proportions,” Medellin Mayor told reporters, later adding: “What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy.”
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 5 minutes from its expected landing at Jose Maria Cordova airport outside Medellin.
Elkin Ospina, mayor of La Ceja, near where the crash took place, said rescuers working through the night had been heartened after pulling three passengers alive from the wreckage.
Authorities and rescuers were immediately activated but an air force helicopter had to turn back because of low visibility. Heavy rainfall complicated the nighttime search, and authorities urged journalists to stay off the roads so ambulances and other rescuers could reach the site.
Images broadcast on local television stations showed at least three male passengers arriving to a local hospital in an ambulance on stretchers and covered in blankets and connected to an IV. All were apparently alive and one of them was reportedly a Chapecoense defender named Alan Ruschel.
The plane was carrying 72 passengers and nine crew members, aviation authorities said in a statement. Local radio said the same aircraft transported Argentina’s national squad for a match earlier this month in Brazil, and previously had transported Venezuela’s national team.
“This morning I said goodbye to them and they told me they were going after the dream, turning that dream into reality,” a board member said to TV Globo. “The dream was over early this morning.”
How sad that this team, from the small city of Chapeco, was in the middle of a fairy tale season. They victoriously climbed the ranks of Brazil’s soccer leagues and joined the country’s top division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s.
The team is so modest that its 22,000-seat arena was deemed too small, by tournament organizers, to host the final match. It was then moved to a stadium 300 miles to the north in the city of Curitiba.
“Chapecoense was the biggest source of happiness in the town,” the club’s vice-president, stated. “Many in the town are crying.”
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