Tuesday 28 March 2017

Pilot begged for help as doomed jet came down

Wreckage from the plane crash in Colombia. AFP/Getty Images
Wreckage from the plane crash in Colombia. AFP/Getty Images

Iver Griffin

The plane carrying Brazilian football team Chapecoense crashed after it was denied the opportunity to land because another plane had already started an emergency descent, according to a leaked audio message which described the emotional last moments of the flight.

The short haul aircraft, operated by charter airline LaMia, was carrying the team to the Colombian city of Medellin, where they were due to play local team Atletico Nacional in the Sudamerica Cup final.

But the plane never reached its destination. It crashed in the east of Colombia's Antioquia department, killing 71 and leaving just six survivors, including three members of the Chapecoense team.

It emerged yesterday that when the LaMia plane ran into trouble, another aircraft had already communicated with the airport that it needed to land as a preventative measure.

VivaColombia flight FC8170 requested to land at Jose Maria Cordova International airport due to a fault in the cabin. The VivaColombia flight had already begun to land when the plane carrying the Brazilian football team requested an emergency landing.

A leaked audio message sent by a co-pilot of another flight in the sky at the same time described in detail the terrifying final moments of the LaMia aircraft, before it plunged into the Colombian Andes.

In the recording Juan Sebastián Upegui, a co-pilot from airline Avianca, could be heard retelling the story as he witnessed it from the cockpit of an Avianca plane that was also waiting to land.

The Avianca aircraft was also waiting to land when crew in the cockpit overheard an exchange between the LaMia plane and the airport's control tower.

According to Mr Upegui, the pilot - Miguel Quiroga - told the air traffic control tower "we request priority to proceed to the runway, we request priority to proceed to the locator. We have fuel problems."

The plane was not able to move to the runway as a plane from passenger airline VivaColombia, which was also experiencing difficulties, was already making its descent to land.

After the charter plane had fallen to 9,000 feet, Mr Upegui described how Mr Quiroga, who lost his own father to a plane crash when he was just a baby, was begging for assistance.

"Now we have a total electric failure, we have a total electric failure," the pilot said. "Help - we need vectors to approach the runway."

In the recording, Mr Upegui said he sat in the cockpit of the Avianca plane, willing the jet carrying the Chapecoense to make it.

"I was saying 'Do it, do it - land," Mr Upegui said in the audio clip.

Irish Independent

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