Crashed plane was out of fuel

In­ves­ti­ga­tors say the Bri­tish-built plane was at its max­i­mum range from Santa Cruz, Bolivia

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGEN­CIES in Medellin, Colombia

Si­mul­ta­ne­ous tear-filled tributes were held at packed sta­di­ums in Colombia and Brazil for the vic­tims of this week’s air tragedy that claimed 71 lives when a char­tered plane crashed while fer­ry­ing a scrappy, small-town soc­cer team to the fi­nals of a pres­ti­gious South Amer­i­can tour­na­ment.

The tributes took place on Wed­nes­day night as crash in­ves­ti­ga­tors aided by dra­matic cock­pit record­ings were study­ing why the Bri­tish-built jet ap­par­ently ran out of fuel be­fore slam­ming into a muddy moun­tain­side just a few kilo­me­ters from Medellin’s in­ter­na­tional air­port.

In the some­times chaotic ex­change with the air traf­fic tower, the pilot of the plane re­quested per­mis­sion to land be­cause of “fuel prob­lems” without mak­ing a for­mal dis- tress call. A fe­male con­troller ex­plained an­other plane that had been di­verted with me­chan­i­cal prob­lems of its own was al­ready ap­proach­ing the run­way and had pri­or­ity, in­struct­ing the pilot to wait seven min­utes.

As the jet cir­cled in a hold­ing pat­tern, the pilot grew more des­per­ate. “Com­plete elec­tri­cal fail­ure, without fuel,” he said in the tense fi­nal mo­ments be­fore the plane set off on a four-minute death spi­ral.

By then the con­troller had gauged the se­ri­ous­ness of the sit­u­a­tion and told the other plane to aban­don its ap­proach to make way for the char­ter jet. It was too late. Just be­fore go­ing silent, the pilot said he was fly­ing at an al­ti­tude of 2,750 meters and made a fi­nal plea to land: “Vec­tors, senorita. Land­ing vec­tors.”

The record­ing, ob­tained by Colom­bian me­dia, ap­peared to con­firm the ac­counts of a sur­viv­ing flight at­ten­dant and a pilot fly­ing nearby who over­heard the fran­tic ex­change. These, along with the lack of an ex­plo­sion upon im­pact, pointed to a rare case of fuel burnout as a cause of the crash of the jet­liner, a BAE 146 Avro RJ85 that ex­perts said was at its max­i­mum range on the flight from Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

“Even if ev­ery­thing goes well, they are not go­ing to have a large amount of fuel when they ar­rive,” said John Cox, a re­tired airline pilot. “I don’t un­der­stand how they could do the flight non­stop with the fuel re­quire­ments that the reg­u­la­tions stip­u­late.”

While the ex­perts worked, thou­sands of white-clad sup­port­ers of Medellin’s Atletico Na­cional club jammed the stands of the 40,000-seat sta­dium where the team had been sched­uled to play a Copa Su­damer­i­cana fi­nals match against Brazil’s ill-fated Chapecoense. With the words “Eter­nal Cham­pi­ons” blaz­ing on a big screen, the nor­mally com­bat­ive Atletico fans put sports­man­ship first and paid trib­ute to the ri­val team, which they’ve urged be named the cham­pion.

The names of each of the 71 vic­tims of Mon­day night’s crash was read aloud. In the stands, mourn­ers stood for a minute of si­lence hold­ing can­dles and signs read­ing “We’re all Chapeconese” and “Soc­cer has no bor­ders”.

I don’t un­der­stand how they could do the flight non­stop with the fuel re­quire­ments that the reg­u­la­tions stip­u­late.” John Cox, re­tired airline pilot Emma Mo­rano, thought to be the world’s old­est per­son and the last to be born in the 1800s, cel­e­brates her 117th birth­day on Tues­day in Ver­ba­nia, Italy.


Fans pay trib­ute to Chapecoense’s play­ers at the Arena Conda sta­dium in Chapeco, Brazil, on Wed­nes­day.

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