Plane car­ry­ing a Brazil­ian team crashes; 71 are dead

Chapecoense had made fairy-tale run to fi­nal of top S. Amer­i­can tour­na­ment

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Fer­nando Ver­gar and Joshua Good­man

LA UNION, COLOM­BIA — Colom­bian au­thor­i­ties searched for an­swers Tues­day into the crash of a char­tered air­liner that slammed into the An­des moun­tains while trans­port­ing a Brazil­ian soc­cer team whose Cin­derella story had wonit a spot in the fi­nals of one of South Amer­ica’s most pres­ti­gious re­gional tour­na­ments. All but six of the 77 peo­ple on board were killed.

The Bri­tish Aerospace 146 short-haul plane de­clared an emer­gency and lost radar con­tact just be­fore 10 p.m. Mon­day, ac­cord­ing to Colom­bia’s avi­a­tion agency. It said the plane’s black boxes had been re­cov­ered and were be­ing an­a­lyzed.

The air­craft, which de­parted from Santa Cruz, Bo­livia, was car­ry­ing the Chapecoense soc­cer team from south­ern Brazil for to­day’s first leg of the two-game Copa Su­damer­i­cana fi­nal against Atletico Na­cional of Medellin. Twenty-one Brazil­ian jour­nal­ists were also on board.

Colom­bian of­fi­cials ini­tially said the plane suf­fered an elec­tri­cal fail­ure, but there was also heavy rain­fall at the time of the crash. Au­thor­i­ties also said they were not rul­ing out the pos­si­bil­ity, re­layed to res­cuers by a sur­viv­ing flight at­ten­dant, that the plane ran out of fuel min­utes be­fore its sched­uled land­ing at Jose Maria Cor­dova air­port out­side Medellin.

What­ever the cause, the emo­tional pain of Colom­bia’s dead­li­est air tragedy in two decades was felt across the soc­cer world.

Ex­pres­sions of grief poured in as South Amer­ica’s fed­er­a­tion can­celed all sched­uled matches in a show of sol­i­dar­ity, Real Madrid’s team in­ter­rupted its train­ing for a minute of si­lence and Ar­gen­tine leg­end Diego Maradona sent his con­do­lences to the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies over Face­book.

Brazil’s top teams of­fered to lend the small club play­ers next sea­son so they can re­build af­ter the sud­den end to a fairy-tale sea­son in which Chapecoense reached the tour­na­ment fi­nal just two years af­ter mak­ing it into the first di­vi­sion for the first time since the 1970s. “It is the min­i­mum ges­ture of sol­i­dar­ity that is within our reach,” the teams said in a state­ment.

Atletico Na­cional asked that the cham­pi­onship be given to its ri­val, whose­up­start run had elec­tri­fied soc­cer-crazed Brazil.

Res­cuers work­ing through the night were ini­tially heart­ened af­ter pulling three peo­ple alive from the wreck­age. But as the hours passed, heavy fog and stormy weather grounded he­li­copters and slowed ef­forts to reach the crash site.

At day­break, dozens of bod­ies scat­tered across a muddy moun­tain­side were col­lected into white bags. They were then loaded onto sev­eral Black Hawk he­li­copters that had to per­form a tricky ma­neu­ver to land on the crest of the An­des. The plane’s fuse­lage ap­peared to have bro­ken into two, with the nose fac­ing down­ward into a steep val­ley.

Of­fi­cials ini­tially re­ported 81 peo­ple were on board the flight, but later re­vised that to 77, say­ing four peo­ple on the flight man­i­fest did not get onto the plane.

Images broad­cast on lo­cal tele­vi­sion showed three of the six sur­vivors on stretch­ers and con­nected to IVs ar­riv­ing at a hospi­tal in am­bu­lances. Chapecoense de­fender Alan Ruschel was in the most se­ri­ous con­di­tion, and was later trans­ported to another fa­cil­ity to un­dergo surgery for a spinal frac­ture. Team­mates He­lio Zampier and Jak­son Foll­mann, the goal­keeper, also suf­fered mul­ti­ple trauma in­juries, with doc­tors hav­ing to am­pu­tate Foll­mann’s right leg.

A jour­nal­ist trav­el­ing with the team was re­cov­er­ing from surgery and two Bo­li­vian crew mem­bers were in sta­ble con­di­tion, hospi­tal of­fi­cials said.

The air­craft is owned by LaMia, a char­ter com­pany that started in Venezuela but later re­lo­cated to Bo­livia, where it was cer­ti­fied to op­er­ate last Jan­uary. De­spite such ap­par­ently lim­ited ex­pe­ri­ence, the air­line has a close re­la­tion­ship with sev­eral premier South Amer­i­can teams.

Ear­lier this month, the plane in­volved in Mon­day’s crash trans­ported Barcelona for­ward Lionel Messi and the Ar­gen­tine na­tional team from Brazil af­ter a World Cup qual­i­fier match. The air­liner also ap­pears to have trans­ported the na­tional squads of Brazil, Bo­livia and Venezuela over the past three months, ac­cord­ing to a log of re­cent ac­tiv­ity pro­vided by Flightradar24.com.

Be­fore be­ing taken off­line, LaMia’s web­site said it op­er­ated three 146 Avro short-haul jets made by Bri­tish Aerospace, with a max­i­mum range of around 2,965 kilo­me­ters (1,600 nau­ti­cal miles) — about the same as the dis­tance be­tween Santa Cruz and Medellin.

Bo­livia’s civil avi­a­tion agency said the air­craft picked up the Brazil­ian team in Santa Cruz, where the play­ers had ar­rived on a com­mer­cial flight from Sao Paulo. Spokesman Ce­sar Tor­rico said the plane un­der­went an in­spec­tion be­fore de­part­ing for Colom­bia and re­ported no prob­lems.

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