World grieves with Chapeco

CityPress - - Sport -

The Brazil­ian town of Chapeco, its build­ings draped in the green colours of its dev­as­tated soc­cer club, pre­pared yes­ter­day to re­ceive the bod­ies of vic­tims of an air dis­as­ter in Colom­bia that killed 71 peo­ple and wiped out the town’s soc­cer team.

The crash on Mon­day night shocked soc­cer fans the world over and plunged Brazil into mourn­ing. The BAe146 re­gional air­liner op­er­ated by Bo­li­vian char­ter com­pany LaMia had ra­dioed that it was run­ning out of fuel be­fore smash­ing into a hill­side out­side the Colom­bian city of Medellin.

Only six peo­ple sur­vived, in­clud­ing three mem­bers of the soc­cer side Chapecoense en route to the Copa Su­damer­i­cana fi­nal, the big­gest game in its his­tory.

Re­ports in Brazil­ian me­dia that the plane, which cir­cled out­side Medellin for 16 min­utes while an­other air­craft made an emer­gency land­ing, had barely enough fuel for the flight from Bo­livia have out­raged rel­a­tives of the vic­tims.

Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales pledged to take “dras­tic mea­sures” to de­ter­mine what caused the crash. Bo­livia has sus­pended LaMia’s op­er­at­ing li­cence and re­placed the na­tional avi­a­tion au­thor­ity’s man­age­ment.

In Chapeco, a small agri­cul­tural town in south­ern Brazil, dozens of fans kept vigil at Chapecoense’s sta­dium, where an im­promptu shrine swelled with fresh flow­ers and hand­made posters. Green and black cloth was draped from fences, store fronts and con­struc­tion sites.

Sid­nei de Oliveira Dias, a 25-year-old fan, said an open air wake due to be held yes­ter­day at the sta­dium would pro­vide a mo­ment of clo­sure for a town whose ex­cite­ment at Wed­nes­day night’s cup fi­nal had turned to an­guish.

Some 100 000 fans, about half the city’s pop­u­la­tion, were ex­pected to at­tend, as was Gianni In­fantino, pres­i­dent of Fifa.

The coffins were sched­uled to ar­rive from Colom­bia aboard an Air Force trans­port plane yes­ter­day.

Brazil­ian Pres­i­dent Michel Te­mer was meant to pre­side over a brief cer­e­mony at the air­port, where he was due to posthu­mously dec­o­rate the vic­tims and of­fer con­do­lences to their fam­i­lies.

How­ever, he was not sched­uled to at­tend the wake in the sta­dium, amid con­cerns over pos­si­ble po­lit­i­cal protests, his ad­vis­ers said.

In re­sponse to out­pour­ings of sup­port from around the globe, Chapecoense hung a huge black ban­ner from the outer wall of its sta­dium.

“We looked for one word to thank all the kind­ness and we found many,” it read, fol­lowed by the words “thank you” in more than a dozen lan­guages.

Work­ers laid out ban­ners on the field, dec­o­rated with white flow­ers, car­ry­ing the lo­gos of Chapecoense and Atlético Na­cional, the Colom­bian team that held a memo­rial cer­e­mony on Wed­nes­day in­stead of host­ing the cup fi­nal.

Cleusa Eich­ner said she would go to the sta­dium yes­ter­day – as she had done so many times for games – but was wary about see­ing the play­ers’ cas­kets.

“I can still see those play­ers en­ter­ing with their kids in their arms. I’d rather keep that im­age in my head, hold on to that hap­pi­ness, than re­place it with noth­ing.”

Brazil­ian me­dia, cit­ing an in­ter­nal doc­u­ment, re­ported that an of­fi­cial at Bo­livia’s avi­a­tion agency raised con­cerns about LaMia’s flight plan.

The of­fi­cial urged the air­line to come up with an al­ter­na­tive route be­cause the jour­ney of four hours and 22 min­utes was the same length as the plane’s max­i­mum flight range.

A Colom­bian civil avi­a­tion doc­u­ment seen by Reuters con­firmed the flight time was set to be four hours and 22 min­utes.

LaMia CEO Gus­tavo Var­gas on Wed­nes­day said the plane had been cor­rectly in­spected be­fore de­par­ture and should have had enough fuel for about four and a half hours of fly­ing. He said it was the pi­lot’s re­spon­si­bil­ity to de­cide whether to stop to re­fuel.

The pi­lot’s fa­ther-in-law, Roger Pinto Molina, who lives in Brazil, apol­o­gised to the Brazil­ian peo­ple in an in­ter­view with GloboNews.

“We want to say to mil­lions of Brazil­ians, es­pe­cially the fam­i­lies, sons, par­ents and brothers in Chapeco, that we are very sorry,” Molina said.

PHOTO: MAURI­CIO DUENAS CAS­TANEDA / EPA

CATAS­TRO­PHE San Vi­cente fu­neral home work­ers get the coffins of the Chapecoense soc­cer team ready to be loaded for repa­tri­a­tion in An­tio­quia, Colom­bia, on Fri­day

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