ALEJANDRO MUNEVAR / AIPS* in MEDELLIN: The helicopter’s blades slowed as we landed 3km from the crash site of the flight that had carried Brazilian football team Chapecoense. While running with the rescue team I felt that my heart would explode with the anguish of not knowing what I would find.
I had barely reached the place when I was hit with the cold, the melancholy air, of the sadness and tears of those there looking for some vestige of life among the dead. It is an image that will stay with me – as, among the rubble, I felt what until a few hours ago were the hopes of a group of young people, who sought to fulfil dreams of their childhood, their club and their fans.
The site is 17km from the main highway, and inaccessible by car, on foot or by helicopter being the only options. It is a difficult place to be, the smell of death mixed with that of nature and the ashes.
It was A Dantesque image where bodies are coming out of the earth looking for light.
Easy to forget that just 12 hours ago a celebration of football was awaiting Chapecoense, the team living the dream of its second consecutive final of the year.
First the finals of the Brazilian league against Palmeiras, then the fatal Copa Sudamericana.
At 9:45 pm local time on Monday night, the plane’s pilot informed the control tower about electrical problems and asked for an immediate landing. Just a few seconds after the landing was allowed, all communication was lost.
Initial information was that the flight LMI2933 from Bolivia had carried 81 passengers, included the flight crew, 21 journalists and 44 members of the team, staff and directors.
The night was still young, and rescuers were unable to arrive to the place of the crash known as the rocky “Cerro del Gordo” due to unfavourable climate conditions and lack of light.
At 11pm the first rescue team arrive, providing devastating image of the plane broken in three parts. There was no fire at the scene, just the fire in the souls of those fighting to survive, and help others survive.
The first survivor was confirmed at two am on Tuesday when midfielder Alan Ruschel was brought to the nearest hospital in La Ceja, in shock, asking for his family and his teammates. Doctors later confirmed that the player was stable.
Flight crew member Ximena Suarez was the next confirmed survivor.
Chapecoense’s goalkeeper Marcos Danilo, his teammate Jackson Follman and journalist Rafael Correa Gobbato were rescued from the scene and taken to the hospital. Danilo died not long after.
At 4:00 am the search for survivors was suspended because of bad weather.
The first official communication at 6:00 am on November 29th stated that six passengers were rescued, but one of them died on the way to the hospital.
With the light of the day, another passenger was found alive, and hope continued that more survivors would be found. For now, that number is six.
Chapecoense should have arrived in Medellin on Monday morning. They had planned to take a charter, but due to bureaucratic issues in Brazil they could not take the original plane. The one that they ended up taking, the plane that crashed, was the same one that their Copa Sudamericana opponents Atletico Nacional used just weeks before to travel to Paraguay.
It was also the plane that took the Argentinian national team to Brazil earlier this month.
More reports began to emerge.
One concerned Mick Quiroga the plane’s pilot, who as soon as he saw the catastrophe playing out before his eyes, decided to empty the fuel tank while in the air, preventing the plane from catching fire as it crashed to the ground, allowing the chance of survivors and of bodies to be found.
Another story was of Chapecoense coach Caio Junior, who, when his team qualified for the final, had stated “Si hoy muriese, lo haría feliz”. “If I die today, I would die happy.”
The President of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos Calderon, spoke to Brazilian President Michel Temer, offering his respect and ensure that the nation would do everything in its power bring survivors and the bodies of the victims back to Brazil.
** AIPS is the international sports journalists’ association with 10,000 members worldwide. More information: www.AIPSmedia.com
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