Brazilian soccer team is wiped out as 71 killed in plane crash
Published 30/11/2016 | 02:30
The mood was jubilant as the Chapecoense players began to board flight LMI2933 headed for the Colombian city of Medellin.
Shortly before boarding, manager Cadu Gaucho (36) appeared in a video on Facebook describing the Brazilian football team's trip to Medellin as "the club's most important to date".
Defender Alan Ruschel and goalkeeper Marcos Danilo Padilha looked happy and relaxed as they posed for pictures while they waited for take off.
"In not long, we'll be arriving in Colombia. We're coming, Colombia," joked Ruschel in a video posted online. Both players would be prised from the wreckage later that night - but only one of them survived.
Two other Chapecoense players posed for photographs with Miguel Quiroga, the pilot of the Bolivia LaMia flight who died in the crash along with 70 others.
The chartered plane took off from Sao Paulo at around 3.35pm local time before stopping over without incident at Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia. From there it went on to Colombia where Chapecoense were due to play Atletico Nacional in the first leg of their maiden final of the Copa Sudamericana, an international club competition.
At 10pm, air controllers at Jose Maria Cordova airport in Medellin received a message from the crew declaring an emergency as it approached its destination. An electrical failure had occurred at some point between the municipalities of La Ceja and La Union in Colombia.
Shortly after midnight, it was reported that the plane had crashed in the Colombian mountains.
"It's a tragedy of huge proportions," Federico Gutierrez, Medellin's mayor, told a local radio station on his way to the crash site.
Rescue workers were initially optimistic - in the early stages of the operation they pulled three passengers from the wreckage.
As the hours dragged on, heavy rainfall grounded search helicopters, hampering efforts.
Conditions were so poor that the authorities gave the order for the rescue to be put on hold until dusk. When the search resumed it became a body recovery operation.
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Last night the plane's black box was recovered, which may provide clues as to why the aircraft went down.
"We stand with the families of the victims, with the people of Brazil, and with the people of Bolivia," an exhausted-looking Mr Gutierrez said after he reached the crash site. "The conditions have made the site difficult to access."
"The truth is it is very sad, it is very difficult."
Colombian rescuers at the site would later be joined by a team of three British investigators, as the BAE 146 jet was manufactured in the UK.
Seven survivors were initially announced, among them Ruschel, who doctors said suffered spinal injuries.
Padilha (31) was taken to hospital but died before 9am local time.
Jakson Ragnar Follmann (24), the team's reserve goalkeeper, was pulled alive from the wreckage, according to local media reports, which added that one of his legs had been amputated.
Journalist Rafael Henzel, defender Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, and crew members Ximena Suarez and Erwin Tumiri are also understood to have escaped with their lives.
Among those killed was Tiago da Rocha Vieira, a 22-year-old forward. A video was posted online of Vieira's thrilled reaction to learning one week before the crash that his wife Graziele was pregnant with their first child.
At 5am yesterday, Michel Temer, the Brazilian president, paid tribute to the victims before declaring three days of national mourning.
"I express my solidarity at this sad time when dozens of Brazilian families have been affected by tragedy," he said.
"We are offering every form of help and assistance that we can to the families."
At 10am, the official Twitter account for Chapecoense tweeted the familiar image of their team badge, but swapped its normal green colour for black.
Fans followed their lead, saying they would wear black at a vigil to be held tonight at the Nacional Stadium near Medellin's Estadio district. In southern Brazil, hundreds of distraught fans gathered outside the Conda Arena, the home stadium of Chapecoense, to say prayers and leave flowers and messages of condolence.
"Chapecoense is one big family and today our second family died," said Cenira Ebling.
In the dressing room, the club set up a hastily improvised support centre for the families of victims and members of the squad who did not make the fateful flight to Colombia.
Igor Damo, a local priest and lifelong Chapecoense fan, came to the stadium to give comfort to the grief-stricken.
"At this time there is not a lot to say," he told Folha de Sao Paulo newspaper. "We are praying and holding each other. It is a time for hugs."
"This is unbelievable, I am walking on the grass of the stadium and I feel like I am floating," said Andrei Copetti, Chapecoense's spokesman.
"No one understands how a story that was so amazing could suffer such a devastating reversal," he said, referring to the team's competition success.
A handful of players and their relatives escaped the crash by blind luck, such as one forward who could not travel due to an injury.
"I was saved because I got injured," said Alejandro Martinuccio. "I feel profound sadness, the only thing I can ask is prayers for the companions who were on the flight."
The son of Chapecoense coach Caio Junior, Matheus, also escaped the crash as he reportedly forgot his passport and was not allowed to board the plane.
Tributes from the world of football addressed to players, their co-workers and their families have been flowing in since the accident.
David Luiz, the Brazilian Chelsea defender, posted a message on social media addressed to Arthur Maia, a Chapecoense winger who died. "Today, I wake up and know that you are no longer among us, news that breaks hearts around the world. I cannot believe it! May God comfort your family, friends and all the families involved. God bless you! Praying for all! RIP."
Shortly after sunrise, it emerged that Chapecoense would be crowned Copa Sudamericana champions, after Atletico Nacional said they wanted to concede the title out of respect to their opponents.
Some of Brazil's top clubs said they wanted to give players to Chapecoense on a free loan for the 2017 season. They also said the club should not be relegated to the second division for three years as it recovers from the disaster. (© Daily Telegraph, London)