KEIR RADNEDGE REPORTS —- An official report published by Milton Claros, Bolivia’s Minister of Public Works, has ascribed “direct responsibility” for the Chapecoense disaster to the company and pilot of the LaMia plane.
The aircraft, carrying 77 people including officials and the first-team squad of the Brazilian football club plus 21 journalists, crashed just short of the scheduled airport near Medellín, Colombia, on November 28.
Claros said that “the verdict is conclusive, the direct responsibility of all this eventuality falls on the pilot and on the company.”
He added: “We have launched the administrative processes and additionally criminal proceedings for this tragic event.”
The investigation had been extended to the directors of the civil aeronautics system.
This follows concerns about how the pilot, company co-owner Miguel Quiroga, had been allowed to take off from Santa Cruz despite having filed a questionable flight plan.
Quiroga was one of 71 people killed. Only three badly-injured players, two flight crew and one journalist survived.
The Bolivian authorities grounded the airline and Gustavo Vargas Gamboa, LaMia’s chief executive, was jailed pending trial earlier this month on manslaughter and other charges. He has denied the charges.
His son Gustavo Vargas Villegas, a former official with Bolivia’s aviation authority, is also being held until trial on charges that he misused his influence in authorizing the license of the plane that crashed. He also says he is innocent.
Criminal charges were also brought against LaMia co-owner Marco Antonio Rocha Benegas, whose whereabouts are unknown, and air traffic controller Celia Castedo, who fled Bolivia after the crash and is seeking asylum in Brazil.
Chapecoense, from Santa Catarina in southern Brazil, had been heading for Medellin to play Atletico Nacional in the first leg of the final of the Copa Sudamericana, the equivalent of Europe’s Europa League.
Last calls from the cockpit of the doomed Flight 2933 revealed that the plane had gone into electrical failure after running out of fuel minutes from the Jose Maria Cordova airport at Rionegro.
Quiroga could have landed earlier to refuel in the Colombian capital of Bogota and his aircraft was put, fatally, into a holding pattern because another plane ahead of it had requested an emergency landing.
LaMia had been set up in 2009 in Merida by Venezuelan businessman Ricardo Alberto Vidal Albacete, with the support of Chavez government officials, to serve the country’s regions.
However Albacete struggled to launch the project amid the escalating Venezuelan economic and fuel crisis. Hence he scaled back from the original plan of operating 12 planes to three and moved the company to Bolivia. The nominated owners of the new company were businessman Rocha and pilot Quiroga.
At the time of the crash two of the aircraft were being repaired in Cochabamba and LMI 2933 was the only one still available.
The same airline and plane had been chartered previously by national team squads from Argentina, Bolivia and Venezuela as well as top clubs such as Atletico Nacional (Colombia), The Strongest, Blooming, Oriente Petrolero and Real Potosi (Bolivia) and Olimpia (Paraguay).
The Brazilian football confederation has said its national team will play a benefit game against Colombia on January 25 to raise funds for the victims’ families.
In typically confusing CBF fashion. this is the same day that Chapecoense are scheduled to play their first game since the air crash at home to Joinville.
Edu Gaspar, the CBF national teams’ coordinator, said: ”It is a game organised for a very specific motive and we hope to help the families who have lost so much.”
Only Brazilian-based players will be called up for the match at Rio de Janeiro’s Olympic/Engenhao Stadium.