MEDELLIN/RIO DE JANEIRO: An investigation has been set under way in Colombia into the plane crash which wiped out the Brazilian football team from Chapecoense on their way to the Copa Sudamericana final writes KEIR RADNEDGE.
The first leg, against Atletico Nacional of Medellin, should have been [played tonight [Wednesday]. Instead surgeons and doctors were treating the only six survivors of the disaster which left 71 people dead.
Only five people – three players, a journalist and two crew members – survived the crash on Monday night when Chapecoense’s charter plane, a BAe 146 made by BAE Systems Plc and chartered from the Bolivian LaMia company, crashed into a nearby mountain.
Of the players, goalkeeper Jackson Follmann was recovering from the amputation of his right leg, doctors said. Another player, defender Helio Neto, remained in intensive care with severe trauma to his skull, thorax and lungs. Fellow defender Alan Ruschel had spine surgery.
One player, goalkeeper Marcos Danilo Padilha, was rescued alive and called his wife back in Brazil but died later of his injuries in hospital. Another player, Tiaguinho, had only recently learned he was about to become a father for the first time.
Club coach Caio Junior’s son says he would have been on the flight but forgot his passport. The death toll was lowered from earlier estimates because four people had not boarded the plane.
Investigators from Brazil, Bolivia and the United Kingdom flew to join Colombian counterparts checking two black boxes from the crash site on a muddy hillside in wooded highlands near the town of La Union.
Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper cited crews from planes approaching Medellin airport on Monday night as saying the pilot of Chapecoense’s flight shouted over the radio that he was running out of fuel and needed to make an emergency landing.
Landing priority was given to a plane from airline VivaColombia, which had already reported instrument problems, the paper said.
Shortly afterward the pilot of the Chapecoense plane told the control tower he was experiencing electrical difficulties before the radio went silent, the paper quoted the sources as saying.
Another survivor, Bolivian flight technician Erwin Tumiri, said he survived because he strictly followed safety instructions.
Her told Radio Caracol: “Many passengers got up from their seats and started yelling. I put the bag between my legs and went into the foetal position as recommended.”
Bolivian stewardess Ximena Suarez, another survivor, said the lights went out less than a minute before the plane hit the mountainside.
Suarez and Tumiri were reportedly shaken and bruised but not in critical condition but the one surviving journalist, Rafael Valmorbida, was in intensive care for multiple rib fractures that partly collapsed a lung.
By Tuesday night, rescuers had recovered most of the bodies which were to be repatriated to Brazil and Bolivia, the countries from where the nine-person crew came. Brazil declared three days of mourning.
Since 2009 Chapecoense had risen from Brazil’s fourth to top division and were about to play the biggest match in their history in the final of the South Amrican equivalent of Europe’s Europa League.
In the club’s small home city of Chapecó in the state of Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, schools cancelled classes and businesses shut, black and green ribbons were draped on fences, balconies and restaurant tables.
Black banners hung from a cathedral downtown and wrapped around a 14-meter statue of one of the town’s founding explorers.
Outside the team’s Conda stadium a group of hardcore fans put up a tent and promised to keep vigil until the bodies had been reclaimed.
Almost all of the 67 bodies recovered from the crash have been identified, according to a member of the Chapecoense board. He said medical experts from Brazil were expected to conclude their work by Wednesday night.
The club is planning an open wake at their stadium by Saturday, the city’s planning secretary Nemesio da Silva told journalists.
Atletico Nacional have asked that the tournament cup be awarded to the Brazilians in honour of the dead.