Brazilian footballers among 75 killed in plane crash

The wreckage of the Lamia plane that carried the Chapecoense Real football team in the mountains of Colombia yesterday. Brazil's President Michel Temer has declared three days of mourning for the victims. A survivor, Brazilian journalist Rafael Henze
The wreckage of the Lamia plane that carried the Chapecoense Real football team in the mountains of Colombia yesterday. Brazil’s President Michel Temer has declared three days of mourning for the victims. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Team was en route to championship final when disaster struck in Colombia

BOGOTA • A charter plane carrying a Brazilian football team has crashed in the mountains of Colombia, killing as many as 75 people, according to officials. But they said six survived, including four players.

Brazil's President Michel Temer declared three days of mourning for the victims.

The Lamia airlines charter plane declared an emergency at around 10pm on Monday, reporting that it had suffered "electrical failures", and crashed shortly later near the city of Medellin, officials said.

The plane was carrying members of Chapecoense Real, a Brazilian football club that had risen from obscurity to play in the Copa Sudamericana final originally scheduled for today against Atletico Nacional of Colombia.

"The pain is terrible. Just as we had made it, I will not say to the top, but to have national prominence, a tragedy like this happens. It is very difficult, a very great tragedy," club vice-president Ivan Tozzo told Globo SporTV.

In all, there were 72 passengers and nine crew members on board flight LMI2933 on a British Aerospace 146 aircraft.

The wreckage of the Lamia plane that carried the Chapecoense Real football team in the mountains of Colombia yesterday. Brazil's President Michel Temer has declared three days of mourning for the victims. A survivor, Brazilian journalist Rafael Henze
A survivor, Brazilian journalist Rafael Henze, being tended to by medical staff on arrival at La Ceja, Colombia, yesterday. PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

Police commander Jose Gerardo Acevedo initially said only five survived the crash, but the Colombian authorities later said a sixth person was found alive, raising hopes that there might be other survivors.

Colombia's disaster risk management agency said: "The rescue of a sixth survivor, player Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, who is in the process of being evacuated, is confirmed. The possibility that other people will be found alive has not been ruled out."

One of the survivors was Alan Ruschel, a 27-year-old defender for the Brazilian team, the head of Colombia's civil aeronautics agency, Mr Alfredo Bocanegra, told reporters.

Radio Caracol said two other players - Marcos Danilo Padilla and Jackson Follmann - also survived and were taken to hospital, along with a flight attendant and a journalist.

The Lamia flight originated in Sao Paulo, Brazil. It made a stop in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, before continuing on to Rionegro, a city near Medellin. It went down about 50km from Medellin, Colombia's second-largest city, in an area called Cerro Gordo.

Mr Elkin Ospina, the mayor of the town of La Ceja near the crash site, said the mountainous terrain was some 3,300m above sea level and very difficult to access.

Rescuers carrying stretchers had to hike for more than half an hour to reach the site.

On its Twitter account, the airport said a plan to use an air force helicopter had to be shelved because of bad weather in the area.

Conmebol, the South American football confederation, has officially called off the Copa Sudamericana final that was to be played between Chapecoense and Atletico Nacional. Atletico Nacional yesterday offered the championship to Chapecoense.

Copa Sudamericana is the second most prestigious club football tournament in South America after the Copa Libertadores.

Chapecoense had reached the final after completing a victory on away goals last week over Argentinian side San Lorenzo in the semi-finals. It was the first time the small club had reached the final of a major competition.

The crash prompted an outpouring of solidarity and grief on social media from the footballing community, with Brazilian top flight teams Flamengo and Santos tweeting messages of support.

Porto goalkeeper Iker Casillas tweeted: "My condolences for the plane accident that carried @ChapecoenseReal. Tough moment for football. Good luck and stay strong!"

The crash evoked memories of other soccer air disasters, including the Munich crash in 1958 that killed 23 people, including eight Manchester United players, journalists and travelling officials.

Two weeks ago, the same plane was used to fly the Argentine national team with Lionel Messi on board to San Juan, Argentina, for a World Cup qualifying match.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'Brazilian footballers among 75 killed in plane crash'. Print Edition | Subscribe