South America has been a special part of my life for four decades. I have lived many years in Brasil and Peru. I am married to an incredible lady from Argentina. I want to share South America with you.
by: Hannah Murphy in London, Joe Leahy in São Paulo and Andres Schipani in Bogotá
A plane carrying a Brazilian football team crashed on its approach to Medellín airport, killing 75 people, Colombian police said on Tuesday.
The chartered aircraft from Bolivia, with members of the first division Chapecoense club and journalists on board, came down in mountainous terrain near Colombia’s second city.
Six people survived among the 72 passengers and nine crew aboard the aircraft, said authorities. Four were members of the Chapecoense squad that was due to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana, a South American football competition, on Wednesday.
Michel Temer, Brazil’s president, said: “I express my solidarity in this sad hour during which tragedy has beset dozens of Brazilian families.” Brazil’s foreign ministry and air force were assisting relatives, he said.
“The government will do all it can to alleviate the pain of the friends and family of sport and national journalism.”
Early rescue efforts were hampered by poor visibility and weather conditions, and the crash site, close to the city of Cerro Gordo, could only be reached by land, according to news reports.
Federico Gutierrez, mayor of Medellín, said: “It’s a tragedy of huge proportions.”
The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, operated by Lamia, a Bolivian charter airline, declared an emergency around 10pm on Monday local time due to an electrical failure, aviation authorities said.
But the head of Colombia’s civil aviation agency said authorities were not ruling out the possibility the flight ran out of fuel, according to press reports.
There are reports that Argentina’s national team flew to Brazil on this same aircraft for a qualifying match for the Russia 2018 World Cup.
The mayor of Medellín, Federico Gutiérrez, said: “It would be ideal to find more survivors but the hopes are fading.”
Dozens of rescuers from the Red Cross and local organisations, including national police and the air force, are continuing their search for further survivors.
Captain Misael Cadavid, commander of the Itagüí firemen corps, told El Tiempo newspaper that “the chances of survival are really difficult … The plane crashed on a hill at 200 metres of height, got stuck in a canyon, and part of the plane was on unstable terrain.”
Chapecoense issued a statement on its Facebook page saying it would comment when the situation became clearer and that it was awaiting official announcements.
“May God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests travelling with our delegation,” the post said.
The team from the small city of Chapecó in the southern state of Santa Catarina made it to the country’s first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s.
It reached the Copa Sudamericana final last week after defeating San Lorenzo of Argentina.
Ivan Tozzo, Chapecoense’s vice-president, told cable channel SporTV: “There are a lot of people crying in our city. We could never imagine this. Chapecoense is the biggest reason for joy here.”
Alan Ruschel, a Chapecoense defender, was confirmed as one of the survivors.
Condolences poured in on Twitter.
“The greatest tragedy of Brazilian football was revealed this morning. We are praying for you. Força [be strong] Chapecoense,” said one tweet.
“Chapecoense needs help. If this is not the moment for unity between Brazilian clubs, there never will be such a moment,” said another.
Major European teams such as Barcelona held a minute’s silence during training to mark the tragedy.
The South American Football Confederation said it was suspending “all activities” following the crash.