LA PAZ: The Bolivian authorities have arrested the head of the grounded airline involved in a crash last week that killed 71 people, including most of the Brazilian football team, Chapecoense.
Gustavo Vargas, a retired air force general, has been detained as part of an investigation into the crash. The plane, operated by LaMia, was taking the players, officials and journalists to Colombia when it ran out of fuel.
Chapecoense were travelling to the city of Medellin to play the first leg of the Sudamericana Cup final against Atletico Nacional.
The British-made Avro RJ85 aircraft ran out of fuel as it approached the airport in Medellin on 28 November. In a leaked tape, pilot Miguel Quiroga – a co-owner of the company, could be heard warning of a “total electric failure” and “lack of fuel”.
A Bolivian air transport official, Celia Castedo, has said she warned Quiroga before departure that the long flight between southern Bolivia and Medellin was at the limit of the plane’s maximum range.
She has now sought asylum in Brazil, saying she is being persecuted but Bolivian government Minister Carlos Romero has urged the Brazilian authorities to send her back.
Six people survived the crash. One of them, crew member Erwin Tumuri, said that Quiroga had denied to pass up on an initial stop for refuelling in the northern Bolivian city of Cobija.
There was no warning to the crew or the passengers that the plane was facing electrical or fuel problems, Tumuri told Brazil’s Globo TV.
LaMia was originally registered in Venezuela, before moving its headquarters to Bolivia. It only had three planes, but only two of them were operational.
The plane had been chartered by Chapecoense for the biggest match in the club’s history, against Atletico Nacional.
On Monday, the South American confederation (CONMEBOL) declared Chapecoense officially champions of the Sudamericana Cup, the second most prestigious continental competition.
For its gesture, Atletico Nacional has been granted the confederation’s special centenary fair play award.