A charter plane carrying 81 people, including players from a rising Brazilian soccer team headed for a championship match, crashed en route to Medellín ‘s airport in Colombia Monday night, according to authorities. Six passengers survived and the rest were killed, Colombia’s aviation authority confirmed Tuesday morning. It was uncertain whether that was a final count, however, as the figures had fluctuated during the night.
General José Acevedo, commander of Medellín police, told a Colombian radio station that 75 people had been killed at the site of the crash and six others had been injured and rescued from the scene. One of the rescued passengers died on the way to the hospital, Acevedo said.
Medellín’s mayor, Federico Gutierrez, called it “a tragedy of huge proportions.”
Poor weather conditions made it initially difficult for rescue teams to access the crash site, but Alfredo Bocanegra, the head of Colombia’s aviation authority, told reporters at about 4 a.m. Tuesday that search efforts continued despite heavy rain.
“It is worth it to keep looking,” Bocanegra said in Spanish. “One single life is worth it.”
The aircraft was carrying members of the Chapecoense Real soccer team, based in southern Brazil, for the finals of the Copa Sudamerica against Atletico Nacional of Medellín. The first match was scheduled for Wednesday in Medellín, according to Colombia’s aviation authority, Aerocivil.
According to Aerocivil, there were 72 passengers and 9 crew aboard the flight from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where the team stopped over. Passengers included 22 soccer players and 22 journalists, according to the aviation authority and local media reports.
The aviation authority confirmed on its Facebook page Tuesday morning the names of the six passengers that survived the crash. Three members of the soccer team — Alan Luciano Ruschel and goalkeepers Jackson Ragnar Follmann and Marcos Danilo Padilha — were among the survivors. Two crew members — Ximena Suárez and Erwin Tumiri were also rescued, along with Bralizian journalist Rafael Henzel.
Among the first to be rescued was Ruschel, 27, who was transported to a hospital in the town of La Ceja, Blu Radio reported. He arrived in a frantic state but with no major wounds, asking about his family and requesting that medical staff take care of his wedding ring, the radio station reported. Henzel, the journalist, was in stable condition, the radio station reported, citing a local fire rescue official.
The aircraft, a British Aerospace short-haul plane operated by a Bolivian charter company, went down near the town of La Unión, according to Colombian officials, about 53 miles from the Medellín airport. Medellín’s mayor told Colombian radio the plane had come down in a mountainous region.
The Associated Press reported that the plane declared an emergency at about 10 p.m. Monday local time due to an electrical failure.
“It seemed the plane had no fuel,” said Elkin Ospina, the mayor of nearby La Ceja, according to an AFP report quoted on the The Folha de S.Paulo newspaper site.
A vice-president of the Brazilian Soccer Association, Delfim Peixoto, was on board, the association said, according to Folha.
The club posted a brief statement on its Facebook page: “may God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests traveling with our delegation.” It said it would have no further comment until it had more details on the crash.
On Monday, Chapecoense’s Facebook page had carried a live video broadcast as the team checked in at Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos international airport for the flight to Colombia. The team members flew from Sao Paulo to Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia and took flight to Medellin in Colombia on a plane operated by Bolivian airline Lamia.
The club, from the town of Chapeco, was a kind of Cinderella team based in the small city of Chapeco which only joined Brazil’s first division in 2014. It defeated Argentina’s powerhouse San Lorenzo last week to make it into the two-game championship round. On Sunday it had just lost to Sao Paulo team Palmeiras in a game that decided the Brazilian championship for the winners.
The team’s ascent from the depths of Brazilian soccer was the talk of the South American football world.
“It is common for Brazilians to say that the country has 12 clubs with actual chances to win the national title at the start of every season,” wrote Plus55 of the Chapeco team this week. “A small club, however, is slowly breaking this logic and has a real shot at becoming 2016’s most successful Brazilian club at the international level.”
The team’s climb was not sudden, however. It started winning lesser championships in 2010, getting moved up the ranks of Brazilian soccer from the C division to the A division. It started playing with elite Brazilian teams in 2014, the article noted, “and has not been relegated since, another rare feat as novice teams are likely to head back” to the B division “in the blink of an eye.”
Chapecoense played its first international match in the Copa Sudamericana in 2015, and in 2016 managed to eliminate traditional powerhouses to make it to the finals.
(c) 2016, The Washington Post · Fred Barbash, Samantha Schmidt, Dom Phillips