In the moments before the charter jet plummeted more than 9,000 feet into the Colombian mountains Monday night, the plane’s pilot signaled a fuel emergency, calling out for assistance with an emergency landing.
An audio recording of the final conversation between the pilot and air traffic controller was leaked to Colombian press Wednesday, providing the clearest image yet of the crash that killed 71 people, including the members of the Chapecoense soccer team from Chapecó, Brazil.
A voice heard on the recording, identified by W Radio of Colombia as the pilot, calls out to a female air traffic controller, telling her the plane, LaMia 933, needs to land immediately.
“Miss, LaMia 933 is in complete failure, complete electrical failure, without fuel,” the pilot says in the recording. Colombian aviation authorities have not confirmed the authenticity of the recording, but affirmed in a news conference Wednesday that the plane was out of fuel at the time of impact.
The air traffic controller on the recording is heard telling the pilot the runway is ready, warning him to expect rain on the surface. He pleads for “vectors,” or landing directions, and she tries to guide him.
“You’re at zero-point-one miles to the Rio Negro border,” the woman says. “I don’t have your altitude.”
“9,000 feet, miss,” he cries out. “Vectors! Vectors!”
The woman tells him he is about 8 miles from the runway. “What’s your altitude now?” she asks. The other end of the call goes silent.
“Jesus,” an unidentifiable voice is heard saying. The air traffic controller continues to ask for the pilot’s position, but receives no response.
In a news conference Wednesday night, Colombian aviation authorities confirmed that at about 9:40 p.m. on the night of the crash, the pilot reported a fuel emergency and, about 10 minutes later, a total electrical failure.
After inspecting the site, investigators found that the plane had no fuel when it slammed into the mountain. Planes are required to account for an additional 30 to 45 minutes of fuel beyond the amount needed to get to the destination airport, authorities said.
The voice data recorders recovered in the investigation are expected to help authorities find out why or how the crew had insufficient fuel. Data from Flightradar24 showed the aircraft flying in a circular pattern before it crashed.
The plane’s tail collided with the top of a mountain in the Cerro Gordo range in Colombia, fracturing its rear as the rest of the plane slid down the other side of the slope. Just before it collapsed, the plane was traveling at a speed of 135 knots (about 155 MPH), which authorities said was a slow speed for a plane of this type.
The slower speed – along with the fact that the plane did not explode on impact – might explain how six people were able to survive, authorities said.
Rescue teams have recovered 71 bodies from the wreckage, and continue to collect forensic evidence, authorities said. The remainder of the investigation could take months. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is taking part in the investigation because the plane’s engines were made by an American manufacturer.
The six survivors were recovering in hospitals, with three in critical but stable condition, the Associated Press reported.
In a video obtained by Reuters via RCN, members of the Brazilian soccer team and Bolivian flight crew are seen speaking to local television reporters before the plane took off toward Medellín.
“We are ready to offer them the best service,” one crew member tells the reporter from the cockpit.
Another smiles as he stands in the aisle with some of the soccer players, telling the camera the crew hoped to deliver the team with “good results.”
“It’s a very important final for us,” one of the players says in the video. “Being taken by LaMia makes it all right.”
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Samantha Schmidt