Brazil team hon­oured as ex­perts study pos­si­ble fuel prob­lem

Malta Independent - - SPORT -

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 yes­ter­day 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 miles from Medellin’s in­ter­na­tional air­port.

In the sometimes chaotic ex­change with the air traf­fic tower, the pi­lot jet re­quested per­mis­sion to land be­cause of “fuel prob­lems” with­out mak­ing a for­mal dis­tress 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 jet­liner 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 9,000 feet and made a fi­nal plea to land: “Vec­tors, senorita. Land­ing vec­tors.”

The record­ing 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.

“The air­plane was be­ing flight­planned right to its max­i­mum. Right there it says that 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 and CEO of Florida-based Safety Oper­at­ing Sys­tems. “I don’t un­der­stand how they could do the flight non­stop with the fuel re­quire­ments that the reg­u­la­tions stip­u­late.”

Bri­tish avi­a­tion ex­perts will in­ves­ti­gate the black box and flight data recorder. The Air Ac­ci­dents In­ves­ti­ga­tion Branch said Thurs­day that the key in­stru­ments of­fer­ing clues to what hap­pened to the plane will be brought to Bri­tain in the com­ing days for study.

While the ex­perts worked, thou­sands of white-clad sup­port­ers of Medellin’s Atletico Na­cional club jammed the stands of the 40,000seat 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 while a mil­i­tary band played taps and Black Hawk he­li­copters that helped in the res­cue op­er­a­tions that pulled six peo­ple alive from the wreck­age flew over­head. In the stands, mourn­ers stood for a minute of si­lence hold­ing can­dles and signs read­ing “We’re all Chapeconese” and “Soc­cer has no borders.”

The emo­tional high point of the trib­ute in Medellin was an ad­dress by Brazil­ian For­eign Min­is­ter Jose Serra, who trav­elled to the city along with a mil­i­tary cargo plane to help repa­tri­ate the bod­ies of the mostly Brazil­ian vic­tims. He high­lighted the fact that both teams shared the same green and white jer­sey colours, a sign to him of unity amid tragedy.

“We Brazil­ians will never for­get the way Colom­bians lived as their own this ter­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble dis­as­ter that dis­rupted Chapecoense’s dream,” the nor­mally stone-faced politi­cal vet­eran said while wip­ing away tears. “You of­fer us enor­mous com­fort - a light in the dark­ness when all of us are try­ing to un­der­stand the un­ex­plain­able.”

Across the con­ti­nent, in Brazil, the mood was even more somber as res­i­dents of the small agri­cul­tural city of Chapeco gath­ered in the team’s sta­dium for a Ro­man Catholic Mass with rel­a­tives of the vic­tims and the play­ers who didn’t travel with the team to Medellin.

At the same time they had ex­pected to be home watch­ing their team on TV, more than 22,000 Chapecoense fans cried as they watched videos of trib­utes that poured in from all over the world. They then cheered the names of each of the dead play­ers as well as the ap­pear­ance of 5-year-old mas­cot Car­los Miguel, who usu­ally ap­pears on the side­lines of games in a Chapeco In­dian head­dress and who many had feared was on the doomed plane.

Chape, as the team is called lo­cally, reached the top of South Amer­i­can soc­cer with­out any su­per­stars or any play­ers from Brazil’s cel­e­brated na­tional team. It was in the fourth di­vi­sion just seven years ago and only reached the first di­vi­sion in 2014. Its run to the fi­nals of the Copa Su­damer­i­cana im­pressed fans across the con­ti­nent as it knocked out some of South Amer­ica’s leg­endary teams.

“We are the cham­pi­ons be­cause we de­served this ti­tle,” said goal­keeper Ni­valdo, who was held back so he could pre­pare for his 300th game with the club Sun­day in the last game of the Brazil­ian league sea­son. “And we needed to be here with this crowd as much as they needed us here.”

Three of the team’s play­ers are among the crash’s sur­vivors. Doc­tors said Wed­nes­day that they re­mained in crit­i­cal but sta­ble con­di­tion. One player, Jak­son Foll­mann, had his right leg am­pu­tated, while de­fender Alan Ruschel was re­cov­er­ing from surgery for a spinal frac­ture.

Chil­dren re­lease bal­loons dur­ing a trib­ute to mem­bers of Brazil’s Chapecoense soc­cer team who died in a plane crash, at Atana­sio Gi­rar­dot sta­dium where they were to play a game in Medellin, Colom­bia Photo: AP

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