Colombia crash pilot criticised for dangerous flight plan

‘What he did was mass murder,’ says another pilot as details of Chapecoense crash emerge

The father-in-law of the pilot who was operating the charter flight which crashed in the Andes killing 71 people, has asked for forgiveness, amid growing evidence that the aeroplane embarked with barely enough fuel to complete the journey.

But his apology is unlikely to appease a growing sense of anger in Brazil, which is still mourning the loss of most of the Chapecoense football team, who were travelling on the doomed plane to their first-ever international final in the Colombian city of Medellin.

A copy of the flight plan has been circulated widely in Brazil, and shows that the estimated time of the journey and the plane’s total range were the same – four hours and 22 minutes – leaving no time for any delays.

As the flight neared its destination late on Monday, another flight with problems jumped in front of the team’s plane, leaving it circling while its fuel ran out.

Roger Molina, the father-in-law of Bolivian pilot Miguel Quiroga (36), issued his apology in an interview with TV Globo.

He said he wanted to tell “millions of Brazilians, but specifically those relatives, children, parents and brothers and sisters of Chapeco, that we are very sorry”.

Speaking for the family, who live in the Brazilian town of Epitaciolândia, near the Bolivian border, Molina said he did not want to comment on the causes of the crash. “The word sorry does not resolve anything, but we want to ask for pardon,” he said.

Relatives’ response

Victims’ relatives and Brazilian pilots have said Quiroga should never have been allowed to set off with a flight plan as flawed as the one the company presented.

There were no plans to refuel, nor did the plane have enough range to reach an alternative airport or keep flying beyond expected flight time, as is standard safety procedure.

Their anger and frustration has been compounded by media reports that Quiroga was also a partner in the charter airline LaMia, leading to speculation that he did not stop to refuel in order to save money.

“It was 77 people’s lives in the hands of one pilot. It was not just one family. It shocked the whole world, there is no doubt the company was wrong,” said Caroline Machado (19), whose uncle Eduardo Preuss, one of the coaching staff, was killed in the crash. “We are very shaken.”

Brazilian pilots have strongly criticised LaMia for apparently taking unacceptable risks.

“This really was a tragedy, a tragedy that this happened because of pure irresponsibility,” said one pilot, speaking anonymously because he was not authorized to give interviews. “What he did was mass murder.”

On Friday, Brazil’s Estado de S Paulo newspaper reported that the same British Aerospace-built plane had flown four other trips at the limit of its fuel capacity.

Aviation authorities

Another Brazilian pilot, Evandro Garcia, also pointed the finger at the Bolivian civil aviation authorities, who he said were more lax than in other South American countries.

“Their criteria, their demands, are below other countries,” he said.

The bodies of the victims are due to arrive in the team’s home of Chapeco, the medium-sized city in the south of Brazil, by Saturday, when a joint funeral will be held at the team’s small Arena Conda stadium.

Large screens will be erected outside the stadium for a crowd that is expected to reach 100,000 – half the city’s population.

But controversy surrounds what happens next to the giant-killing team who had enchanted this football-mad nation.

This week, Brazilian Football Association president Marco Polo Del Nero caused controversy when he insisted that Chapecoense play their next league game against Atletico Mineiro.

“This game has to happen. There has to be a big party,” Chapecoense’s surviving vice-president Ivan Tozzo told Globoesporte. When Tozzo said he had no players, Del Nero replied: “You have the youth team and the players who stayed.”

Atletico have refused to play the game. “We believe in sport, respect the pain, this is not the moment to demand anything of any player,” Daniel Nepomuceno, Atletico’s president told reporters on Thursday.

Three Chapecoense players were among the six survivors – defenders Allan Ruschel and Helio Neto, and goalkeeper Jackson Follman.

Neto’s father has said his son will return to playing.

"He has just done surgery on his leg and the doctors say he will go back to football," the player's father, Helam Zampier, wrote on Facebook. – Guardian service