30 Nov 2016

Plane crash: Brazil declares three days of mourning

7:47 am on 30 November 2016

Brazil declared three days of mourning and cancelled football matches after members of a top Brazilian team died in a plane crash in Colombia.

Rescuers search for survivors in the wreckage of a charter plane carrying Brazil's Chapecoense Real football team.

Rescuers search the wreckage of the chartered plane. Photo: AFP

The charter plane carrying the Chapecoense team to the biggest game in its history crashed in the Colombian mountains after an electrical fault, killing 71 of the 77 people on board.

The team was flying to face Atletico Nacional of Medellin in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final, South America's equivalent of the Europa League.

The plane, en route from Bolivia where the team had a stopover, went down about 10.15 pm on Monday night with 68 passengers and a crew of nine on board.

It had reported electrical problems and declared an emergency minutes earlier as it neared its destination, Medellin airport officials said. It crashed near the town of La Union in wooded highlands outside Medellin.

The plane was shattered against a mountainside with the tail end virtually disintegrated. Rain hampered dozens of rescuers as they combed the muddy and forested area.

This file photo taken on November 24, 2016 shows Brazil's Chapecoense players posing for pictures during their 2016 Copa Sudamericana semifinal second leg football match against Argentina's San Lorenzo held at Arena Conda stadium, in Chapeco, Brazil.

Brazil's Chapecoense football team, pictured on on 24 November, at the semi-final against Argentina in the 2016 Copa Sudamericana Photo: AFP

There were 71 confirmed fatalities, with six injured survivors, who were listed as three players, a journalist and two members of the flight crew. Two of the six were in grave condition.

It was the first time Chapecoense, a small club from the southern Brazilian town of Chapeco, had reached the final of a major South American club competition.

Brazilian news organizations said 21 journalists had been on board the plane to cover the match.

Global soccer was stunned, matches were cancelled around South America, and Brazil declared three days of mourning.

"I express my solidarity in this sad hour during which tragedy has beset dozens of Brazilian families," President Michel Temer said.

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tweeted his condolences. "Solidarity with the families of the victims and Brazil," he said.

Colombia's civil aviation authority named the survivors as players Alan Ruschel, Jackson Follmann and Zampier Neto; journalist Rafael Valmorbida; air stewardess Ximena Suarez and flight technician Erwin Tumiri.

Flight tracking service Flightradar24 said on Twitter the last signal from flight 2933 was received when it was at 4724m, about 30 km from its destination, which sits at an altitude of 2133m.

The BAe 146 was produced by a company that is now part of the UK's BAE Systems

The team flew Brazilian airline Gol to Santa Cruz in Bolivia and then took a flight from there to Medellin on the plane run by a Bolivian-based, Venezuelan-owned company called LaMia.

The crash evoked memories of a series of soccer air disasters in the 20th century, including the Munich crash in 1958 that killed 23 people, including eight Manchester United players, journalists and travelling officials.

At the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, people gathered to pay tribute to the players.

At the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, people gathered to pay tribute to the players. Photo: AFP

World governing body FIFA said on Twitter its "thoughts were with the victims, their families, fans of Chapecoense and media organisations in Brazil on this tragic day."

'The hope of our city'

Chapecoense qualified for the biggest game in its history after overcoming the Argentine club San Lorenzo in the semi-final on away goals following a 1-1 draw in Buenos Aires and 0-0 draw at home.

They were underdogs for the match against a club going for a rare double after winning the Copa Libertadores in July.

Chapecoense was the 21st biggest club in Brazil in terms of revenue in 2015. The club has built its success on a frugal spending policy that eschewed big money signings and concentrated on blending young talent and experienced journeymen.

"They were the hope of our city," said Jean Panegalli, 17, a student in Chapeco. "They played for love of the shirt and not for money. They played with the commitment that only those who have lived here know. They were ferocious."

Several hundred dejected fans gathered around the team's Conda stadium in Chapeco, many of them wearing Chapecoense's green strip. At least one young fan burst into tears

Chapecoense's best-known player was Cleber Santana, a midfielder whose best years were spent in Spain with Atletico Madrid and Mallorca. Coach Caio Junior also was experienced, having managed at some of Brazil's biggest clubs, Botafogo, Flamengo and Palmeiras among them.

The South American football federation suspended all games and other activities following the crash.

It was Colombia's worst air accident since more than 160 people on an American Airlines plane died in 1995 in a mountainous zone near Cali.

Chapecoense football team

  • Founded in 1973
  • Promoted to the Brazilian top division, Serie A, for the first time in the club's history in 2014 (currently ninth)
  • Were flying to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana - winner qualifies for Copa Libertadores, top continental competition in South America
  • Based in the Brazilian city of Chapeco in the state of Santa Catarina

- Reuters