The authority of Colombia has confirmed that no fewer than 76 members of a Brazilian soccer club have died in a chartered plane crash on the outskirts of Medellín, Colombia.
According to Brig. Gen. José Gerardo Acevedo, the police commander for the area surrounding Medellín, in the early hours of today said that five of the 81 people onboard survived.
Colombia’s civil aviation agency said the flight was operated by a small airline, LaMia, and was carrying members of the Chapecoense de Brasil soccer club.
The team was traveling from Bolivia to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana tournament when the plane crashed around 10 p.m. on Monday.
The aircraft was carrying 72 passengers and nine crew members, according to a statement issued by the Medellín airport. Search and rescue efforts were hampered by low visibility and difficulty in reaching the site.
The authorities said the plane had reported electrical problems as it flew near the towns of La Ceja and La Unión, in mountainous stretches around Medellín.
The Colombian station Blu Radio, citing an interview it conducted with Alfredo Bocanegra, Colombia’s civil aviation director, said the plane had declared an emergency as it approached Medellín. The plane was given priority to land before air traffic controllers lost contact with it.
Federico Gutiérrez, the mayor of Medellín, told Blu Radio that “emergency support, with firefighters, ambulances and the hospital network,” had been activated.
The civilian aviation authority said in a post on Facebook that six people had been rescued — three players, two crew members and a journalist who was accompanying the team. One of the survivors subsequently died, General Acevedo said, but it was not clear who.
Members of Chapecoense, a soccer club from the southern Brazilian city of Chapecó, were flying to Colombia for the first match of a two-leg final in the Copa Sudamericana, a second-tier championship for South American clubs.
That match, against the Colombian team Atlético Nacional, was scheduled for Wednesday in Medellín. Chapecoense beat San Lorenzo — the Argentine club that counts Pope Francis as a fan — in the semifinals, and clubs like Atlético Junior of Colombia and Independiente of Argentina along the way.
As Brazilians awoke on Tuesday to reports about the crash, they expressed anguish, and President Michel Temer said on Twitter that there would be a three-day mourning period.
“Before boarding, they said they were seeking to turn their dream into reality,” Plínio David de Nes Filho, chairman of the board overseeing the Chapecoense club, told reporters. “This morning, that dream is over.”
The mayor of Chapecó, the city of 210,000 in southern Brazil where the club is based, said he and other officials narrowly missed being on the plane that crashed. Pride in the club had swelled in Chapecó, a relatively prosperous city with an economy that relies on large food processing operations.
“We were supposed to be on that flight,” said the mayor, Luciano Buligon, adding that he and others had opted instead to take a commercial flight.
Others expressed relief about reports of survivors, including three players. “Thank God Alan is in the hospital, in stable condition,” Moa Ruschel, the wife of Alan Ruschel, a defender for Chapecoense who was among the survivors, said in a post on Instagram. “We are praying for everyone who wasn’t saved.”
Players from the Chapecoense de Brasil soccer team on Thursday before the second leg of the Copa Sudamericana semifinal. Credit Nelson Almeida/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
Chapecoense, founded in 1973, returned to the top tier of Brazilian soccer in 2014 after a 35-year absence. The two-legged fixture with Atlético Nacional in the final of the Copa Sudamericana had been described as the biggest in the team’s history.
Chapecoense’s rise from the country’s fourth division — where it played as recently as 2009 — has been described as a “Cinderella” story.
The club has established a reputation for long-term thinking and financial prudence, a rarity in the chaotic world of Brazilian soccer, and its progress to the final of the Copa Sudamericana put it in position to become the first team from the country to contest a continental trophy since 2013.
Conmebol, the governing body of South American soccer, issued a statement to say that all of the federation’s activities would be suspended until further notice. A number of teams in Brazil canceled events; Barcelona said it would hold a moment of silence before training on Tuesday; and clubs from across the world, including Manchester City and AC Milan, presented their condolences.
Romário de Souza Faria, a former striker for the Brazilian national team, expressed his “solidarity with the friends and families of the players, journalists, technical staff and flight crew” who died in the crash.
“God please help all those who were on board the plane,” Alexandre Pato, who plays in Spain and has been a member of Brazil’s national team, wrote on Twitter.