Colombia recording shows pilot of doomed Brazilian charter plane says he had run out of fuel
LA UNION, Colombia — Kickoff was set for Wednesday night.
Chapecoense, a Brazilian soccer team representing the city’s 200,000 residents, would take the field in Medellin against Colombian club Atlético Nacional in the first leg of the Copa Sudamerica final.
By now, most of the world knows how this story ends.
The chartered Avro RJ85 flying the team, its coaches and guests crashed, killing more than 70 on board.
It’s an unspeakably tragic conclusion to what most consider a fairy-tale run in one of South America’s most prestigious soccer tournaments.
But life moves forward.
The many tributes continue to pour in.
The investigation continues.
A team of Brazilian aviation accident prevention specialists, foreign ministry delegates and federal police officers are expected to arrive in Medellin on Wednesday.
So too will the mayor of Chapeco, city officials, members of the Brazilian Football Federation, and television broadcasters. They’re there to help identify the victims, authorities say.
Medellin’s mayor said the city planned to honor the crash victims Wednesday at the Atanasio Girardot stadium. People in attendance will be dressed in white and have candles, the mayor said.
Yet in the darkest of times, Chapecoense itself says it’s up to its city, its fans and the country to focus on the future.
“Today we wake up with a new challenge, because life gave us a different lesson. Our warriors became heroes, and immortalized their lives in a battle that made the world stop. Today’s match does not have a final whistle. Together, we are more than 11.”
Three days of mourning
It’s a time of mourning and reflection in both Brazil and Colombia.
Heartbroken fans gathered at Arena Conda in the team’s hometown of Chapeco, Brazil.
Brazilian President Michel Temer has declared a three-day mourning period in response to the tragedy. Flags at his presidential palace are flying at half staff.
Atlético Nacional, the team Chapecoense was set to play on Wednesday, has asked that the South American Football Association (CONMEBOL) award the championship title to their would-be opponents.
In light of the tragedy, CONMEBOL itself suspended all of the association’s activities until further notice. And Brazil’s football federation has canceled all activities for a week.
Corinthians, as well as several other high-profile Brazilian clubs, have offered to loan players to the club without any fees during 2017.
Now it’s up to investigators to find out why the plane went down. Moments before the crash the pilot told an air traffic control operator the plane was in “total electric failure and without fuel.”
The plane’s so-called black boxes were found in “perfect condition” in the mountains near the Colombian city of Rionegro where the plane crashed, according to Colombia’s civil aviation authority.
The plane took off from Bolivia’s Viru Viru airport at 6:18 p.m. local time Monday, an air traffic controller told CNN. Colombian aviation officials said an emergency was declared while the plane was flying between the municipalities of La Ceja and La Union.
Before it crashed, the aircraft entered a circular holding pattern at around 20,000 feet, according to tracking data from FlightRadar24.
Images of the scene show what appear to be damaged parts of the plane, including tattered debris emblazoned with the Chapecoense club logo.
The lack of apparent fire damage among the wreckage means investigators may consider fuel starvation as one of the contributing factors to Monday’s crash, a person familiar with the early inquiry said. But fuel starvation on a commercial flight is very rare, one expert told CNN.
The Colombian Civil Aviation Authority declined to comment further on technical details.
Victims and survivors
There were 77 people on board LAMIA flight 2933, including soccer players, journalists, aircraft crew and team staff.
Of those, 71 are dead.
Six survived, authorities said. They include:
Three soccer players: Jackson Ragnar Follmann, Alan Ruschel and Helio Hermito Zampier Neto remain hospitalized for serious injuries, Chapecoense Football Association said Wednesday.
Goalkeeper Follmann is in stable but critical condition after having his right leg amputated. He remains in intensive care and faces the possibility of having his other foot amputated.
Ruschel also is in stable but critical condition after spinal surgery but still has normal movement in his upper and lower limbs.
Neto, the last person to be rescued, is under observation following multiple surgeries, Arteaga said.
One journalist: Rafael Henzel Valmorbida suffered chest injuries and a fractured leg but his outlook is optimistic, Chapecoense said.
Two airline crew: Erwin Tumiri and Ximena Suarez
It was initially reported that 81 people were on board and 75 died, but those numbers were later revised because some passengers on the manifest missed the flight.