A Colombia plane crash has left soccer fans in Brazil in mourning after 71 people-including members of a professional Brazilian soccer team-were killed. The British Aerospace Avro RJ85, crashed on November 28, 2016, in the Andes mountains near Rionegro, Colombia, while carrying members of the Chapecoense soccer club to an important match. Also killed in the tragic international plane accident were team coaches, journalists, and other guests.
Authorities Investigate Colombian Plane Crash
Authorities are now investigating the cause of the Colombia plane crash, although early reports indicate speculation that a loss of fuel was to blame. At least one survivor reportedly told authorities that the British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane ran out of fuel just before it was scheduled to land at Jose Maria Cordova airport. Investigators have located the plane’s black boxes and are analyzing them for further information. According to reports, the plane declared an emergency partway through its flight, after experiencing electrical issues.
Sources have told news outlets that the pilot said the plane was “in total electrical failure and without fuel,” though analysts note that accidents involving fuel starvation are very rare. There have also been reports that the plane’s cabin went dark immediately before the plane crash. Prior to crashing the plane moved into a holding pattern at around 20,000 feet.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has offered assistance to investigators in Colombia and investigators from the United Kingdom have also been sent to the plane crash site. Investigators reportedly hope to speak to Juan Sebastian Upegui, a co-pilot on a nearby flight who was also communicating with air traffic controllers. In an audio recording with a friend, Upegui says he heard the pilot of the plane request a priority landing due to a lack of fuel and heard the pilot say, “help us,” and “we’re going down”.
Survivors Suffer Catastrophic Injuries
LAMIA flight 2933 was carrying 77 people from Bolivia’s Viru Viru International Airport in Santa Cruz when it crashed. Only six survived, and some of those have suffered catastrophic injuries. Three soccer players-Alan Ruschel, Helio Neto, and Jackson Follmann-survived, although Follmann required leg amputation, and Ruschel underwent surgery for a spinal injury. Neto suffered severe trauma to his skull and lungs. Two crewmembers also survived as did one journalist who was accompanying the team. The journalist, Rafael Valmorbida, was in intensive care for multiple rib fractures and a partially collapsed lung.
“Many passengers got up from their seats and started yelling,” flight technician Erwin Tumiri told Colombia’s Radio Caracol. “I put the bag between my legs and went into the fetal position as recommended.”
According to some reports, the nearly 1,900-mile flight was close to the upper limit of the distance the plane could travel. One witness told The Huffington Post that the plane flew over her house, but by that point it made no noise, indicating engine problems.
Planes are required to carry enough fuel to fly between 30 and 45 minutes longer than their flight, in case they need to make an emergency landing elsewhere or have changes in their flight plans.
Brazil Soccer Team on Way to International Competition
The Chapecoense soccer team was on its way to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana, a major international soccer competition. The team had pulled itself from relative obscurity and risen through the ranks to become an important contender in South American soccer. In its first year in the Copa Sudamericana, Chapecoense made its way to the quarterfinals. This year, its second in the competition, the team made it to the finals.
The team was set to play a Colombian team in the final on Wednesday, November 30, just two days after the crash. That team, Atletico Nacional, requested the South American Football Confederation to give the trophy to Chapecoense in honor of the victims of the Colombia plane crash.
“The accident of our football brothers, Chapecoense, will mark us for life and will leave an indelible mark on Latin-American and world football,” a statement from Atletico Nacional reads. “All this has been completely unexpected, that’s why the pain. They were all footballers, technical staff, journalists and crew, people with many dreams, that’s why the tears.”
Plane Crash Sets Off Three Days of Mourning
Following the crash, Brazil declared three days of mourning. Meanwhile, fans set up a vigil outside Chapecoense’s home stadium and the club said it would hold an open wake at the stadium to honor those who died in the accident.
The South America Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) suspended all other games and events until further notice out of respect for the victims. A statement from CONMEBOL confirmed the organization had received word about the Colombia plane crash and that the organization greatly regrets what happened.