Brazil in mourning after plane carrying soccer team crashes

Chapecoense staff and players among about 70 fatalities in crash near Medellín, Colombia

Members of Brazilian football team Chapecoense were among the 81 people on board a chartered plane that crashed on approach to Medellín, Colombia from Bolivia, killing 76 people. Video: Reuters

 

Brazil was left in mourning after a plane carrying a football team heading to play in its first ever international final crashed late on Monday night as it approached the Colombian city of Medellín, killing more than 70 people.

The charted plane was bringing players, staff and executives of southern Brazilian club Chapecoense as well as 22 sports journalists from Bolivian city Santa Cruz to Medellín where the club was to have played the first leg of the Copa Sul-Americana final against local side Atlético Nacional on Wednesday.

Of the reported 77 people on board, seven were said to have been pulled alive from the wreckage but one, Chapecoense goalkeeper Danilo, the hero of their semi-final victory over Argentine club San Lorenzo, was said to have died later in hospital. Three other players as well as two crew members and a journalist remain in hospital.

The aircraft had reported electrical problems and declared an emergency minutes earlier as it neared its destination, Medellín airport officials said.

Rescuers worked yesterday to recover the bodies from the crash site, located in hilly terrain near Medellín, before a final death toll was confirmed.

Two black boxes were recovered from the crash site last night, Colombia’s government said.

Founded in 1973 in the small, prosperous city of Chapecó, Chapecoense’s march to its first international final was one of Brazilian football’s genuine feel-good stories of recent years.

International stage

As recently as 2009 the club was languishing in Brazil’s fourth division before a new group of directors revolutionised its fortunes. Having firmly established itself in Brazil’s top flight the final against Atlético Nacional was to have announced the club’s arrival on the international stage.

Struggling to hold back his emotions, the president of the club’s board spoke of his shock over the crash. “Yesterday morning I said goodbye to them. They said they were going in search of a dream to make this dream a reality,” Plínio David de Nes Filho told Brazilian television. “The dream ended in the early hours of the morning.”

Video and images excited Chapecoense players took inside the plane before it took off were widely circulated on social media on Tuesday.

De Nes Filho had been due to be on the plane along with Chapecó’s mayor, Luciano Buligon, but both were delayed by business in São Paulo and had made arrangements to fly to Medellín on Tuesday evening instead.

The son of Chapecoense’s coach Caio Júnior also missed the plane after he forgot his passport. His father is among the victims. At the club’s stadium hundreds of fans gathered during the day to pay homage to the victims. Local television showed a large group praying the Our Father while shops and businesses closed as the city of 200,000 absorbed the shock of the news.

Players from Atlético Nacional have called on the South American Football Confederation to award the Copa Sudamericana to Chapecoense. “We want to support the families, so we can give them a hug. This is all we can do,” said Atlético full back Gilberto Garcia in an interview with a Colombian television station.

Solidarity

There was an outpouring of solidarity across the footballing world as news of the tragedy spread. The arch over Wembley stadium was lit up in Chapecoense’s traditional green. Pelé and Brazilian star Neymar joined a host of current and former players taking to social media to express condolences. Several clubs including Real Madrid and Barcelona held a minute silence before regular training sessions on Tuesday.

Investigators are still arriving to sift for clues as to what caused the crash. Speculation initially ranged from reports the pilot told air traffic controllers of a “technical failure” on board 15 minutes before the flight disappeared from radar to whether the Bolivian operated British Aerospace Avro 146 plane – described as a short-haul and regional airliner – was attempting a journey beyond its range.

The crash evoked memories of previous plane crashes involving football teams such as the Munich disaster in 1958 involving Manchester United. The worst previous sporting air accident in South America occurred in 1987 when 29 players from Alianza Lima of Peru were among 43 victims when the Fokker they were travelling in crashed into the sea.

All top-flight football has been suspended in Brazil for the week and President Michel Temer has declared three days of national mourning.