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Soccer Fans in Colombia, Brazil Honor Plane Crash Victims

  • VOA News

Chapecoense soccer players who did not travel with their team on a flight to Colombia, mourn during a tribute with fans to their late teammates in Chapeco, Brazil, Nov. 30, 2016.

Chapecoense soccer players who did not travel with their team on a flight to Colombia, mourn during a tribute with fans to their late teammates in Chapeco, Brazil, Nov. 30, 2016.

Soccer fans in Brazil and Colombia held tributes Wednesday night in honor of those killed late Monday when a plane carrying a Brazilian team crashed near Medellin, Colombia, killing 71 people.

In Medellin, 40,000 people filled the stands where the city’s Atletico Nacional club had been scheduled to play against the Brazilian team Chapecoense. Many of them wore white and carried flowers for the tribute that included reading the names of the victims and observing a minute of silence.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Jose Serra addressed the crowd, noting the two teams’ common white and green colors as a sign of unity.

“We Brazilians will never forget the way Colombians lived as their own this terrible, terrible disaster that disrupted Chapecoense’s dream,” Serra said.

In Chapeco, Brazil, people gathered at the same time in their stadium for a vigil of their own.

Pilot pleads to land

Earlier Wednesday, cockpit audio recordings obtained by Colombian media outlets revealed the pilot of the plane repeatedly asking for permission to land because the aircraft was out of fuel and had “total electrical failure.”

A surviving flight attendant and an Avianca pilot, who was flying nearby and listening to his radio, described the pilot’s desperate pleas. The audio obtained Wednesday confirmed both accounts.

Authorities are still not ruling out other possibilities, but experts said the plane was operating at its maximum range and that the lack of an explosion on impact indicated a rare case of a jet running out of fuel.

Alfredo Bocanegra, head of Colombia's civil aviation agency, told reporters that planes must have extra fuel to fly at least 30 to 45 minutes to another airport in a case of an emergency.

Gathering in Atanasio Girardot Stadium in Medellín, Colombia, where thousands pay tribute tonight to members of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team who died in a plane crash this week. (E. Alzate for VOA)

Gathering in Atanasio Girardot Stadium in Medellín, Colombia, where thousands pay tribute tonight to members of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team who died in a plane crash this week. (E. Alzate for VOA)

Investigators were also considering the possibility of a fuel leak.

"If this is confirmed by the investigators, it would be very painful because it stems from negligence," Bocanegra told Caracol Radio.

The country's aviation agency found the airplane's cockpit voice recorder and flight data recorder on Tuesday amid the aircraft debris.

Six people survived the crash. Among them were three members of the Chapecoense soccer team, at least two of them with substantial injuries: a journalist, and two members of the flight crew.

Rescuers carry one of the survivors from the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, Nov. 29, 2016.

Rescuers carry one of the survivors from the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, Nov. 29, 2016.



Brazilian goalkeeper Marcos Danilo Padilha survived the crash but “died while being transferred” to a hospital, officials said.

Doctors had to amputate the leg of reserve goalkeeper Jackson Follman, while defender Helio Neto suffered cranial injuries. Defender Alan Ruschel was the other team survivor. A doctor said he underwent surgery and then was transferred to another hospital for further examination.

Rescue workers at the wreckage of an airplane that was carrying the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense when it crashed outside Medellin, Colombia, Nov. 29, 2016.

Rescue workers at the wreckage of an airplane that was carrying the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense when it crashed outside Medellin, Colombia, Nov. 29, 2016.



Investigation under way

The plane, owned by the small Venezuelan airline LaMia, was en route from Bolivia to Medellin, where the team was to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana tournament, when it crashed.

According to reports, the jet was at an altitude of 3,300 meters (10,827 feet) before the accident.

Rescue efforts were hindered by the difficulty in reaching the crash site in the mountainous area and by low visibility.

At the crash site, there were no traces of fuel. John Cox, a retired airline pilot and CEO of Florida-based Safety Operating Systems, told the Associated Press that the fuel issue deserved a careful look.

"The airplane was being flight-planned right to its maximum. Right there, it says that even if everything goes well, they are not going to have a large amount of fuel when they arrive," Cox said.

"I don't understand how they could do the flight nonstop with the fuel requirements that the regulations stipulate," he added.

Mourners gathered in Medellín, Colombia, to pay tribute to members of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team. (E. Alzate for VOA)

Mourners gathered in Medellín, Colombia, to pay tribute to members of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team. (E. Alzate for VOA)

Chapecoense board member Plinio De Nes said a crisis center had been set up at the team's headquarters for relatives and friends.

"[Players] told me they were going after this dream, to make the dream turn into reality. We were very moved and shared a lot of this dream with them. The dream is now over," he told reporters.

People pay tribute to the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real who were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains, at the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, Nov. 29, 2016.

People pay tribute to the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real who were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains, at the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, Nov. 29, 2016.



The Colombian football squad Atletico National said it was also waiting for more information and offered its support to the Brazilian team, adding that Chapecoense should win the title "as an honorary trophy for its great loss."

Also on board were more than 20 journalists who were going to cover the Copa Sudamericana soccer match Wednesday.

Members of the press were from several organizations, including Fox Sports Brazil and Globo, a large Brazilian conglomerate, and a variety of FM and AM radio stations in South America.

On Twitter, Chapecoense's rival called for fans to dress in white and attend a candlelight vigil at the city's soccer stadium to honor the people who died in the crash.

IN PICTURES: Plane with Brazilian Soccer Team Crashes in Colombia

Brazilian President Michael Temer said authorities were mobilizing to help the team and families of the victims. He said the government "will do everything possible to alleviate the pain" of the family members of the players and the journalists who died in the crash.

The crash prompted the South American soccer federation to cancel all activities until further notice.

Condolences

Condolence messages poured in through social media from many international teams and well-known players.

Brazilian soccer legend Pele said on Twitter that Brazilian football was in mourning. “It is such a tragic loss. My sincere condolences to the families of the deceased. Rest in peace,” he wrote.

English soccer team Manchester United expressed grief and offered condolences. Real Madrid’s squad stopped a training to hold a minute of silence.

On Facebook, Argentina’s Diego Maradona offered condolences to the families.

Mourners light candles in remembrance of members of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team. (E. Alzate for VOA)

Mourners light candles in remembrance of members of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team. (E. Alzate for VOA)

The Rio headquarters of the Brazilian Football Association flew flags at half-staff on Tuesday and halted all games in the Brazilian soccer calendar for the next seven days.

The mayor of the southern Brazilian city of Chapeco, home of the ill-fated soccer team, said he and other officials barely missed boarding the plane that crashed. Instead, they took a commercial flight.

The team joined Brazil's first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s.

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