Crashed plane was out of fuel
Investigators say the British-built plane was at its maximum range from Santa Cruz, Bolivia
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.