A plane carrying the Brazilian football club Chapecoense crashed last night near Medellín, Colombia, at 10.15pm local time.
Seventy-five died in the impact: seven flight crew, 19 footballers, 21 journalists, and 28 club managers and technical staff. There were six initial survivors, but one died in transit to a medical centre. The other five are being treated for serious injuries in hospital.
Chapecoense was en route to Medellín to face Colombian club Atlético Nacional in the finals of the Copa Sudamericana.
The chartered flight was operated by Venezuelan carrier Lamia, a small company known for providing low-cost chartered flights to Latin American football teams.
The team intended to fly directly to Medellín, but Brazilian aviation authorities required the team to change its plans and stop over in Bolivia in order to abide by international airspace laws. The crash occurred on the second leg of the flight, departing from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia.
It is believed that the crash was caused by an electrical malfunction. The pilots reported irregularities in the electrical system before losing contact with air traffic controllers.
The plane had been in operation since 1990 and had never experienced mechanical problems. Just over two weeks ago, the same plane carried the Argentine national team to and from a match in Belo Horizante, Brazil.
The plane crashed in a remote, mountainous region of the Colombian countryside. Rescuers arrived by helicopter to the site around 1000 metres above sea level. There was rain and low visibility at the site, forcing rescue efforts to be temporarily suspended during the early morning.
Chapecó is an industrial city in southern Brazil with a population of 210,000. The team’s recent success had become a point of local pride. It had risen from Brazil’s lower tiers to compete successfully in the country’s top league. The mayor and other local officials had planned to take the same flight as the team, but ultimately changed their travel plans and were not on board.
Football clubs in South America and around the world offered their support to Chapecoense on social media. Lionel Messi wrote: “My deepest condolences go to all of the families, friends and supporters of the Associação Chapecoense de Futebol squad.”
Chapecoense had overcome Argentine club San Lorenzo in the two-leg semi-final. After tying 1-1 in Argentina and 0-0 at home, the Brazilian club advanced to the final via the away goals rule.
After the tragedy, Atlético Nacional requested that Chapecoense be declared this year’s Copa Sudamerica champions.