Plane taking Brazilian soccer team crashed in Colombia, 71 dead

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Wreckage from a plane that crashed into Colombian jungle with Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense, is seen near MedellinDhaka, November 30, 2016: A plane taking Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense to a South American cup final crashed in Colombia after reporting an electrical fault, killing 71 people, including most of the team and accompanying journalists. Reuters

The plane slammed into a mountainside near Medellin on Monday night as the team flew to face Atletico Nacional for the Copa Sudamericana, which is South America’s equivalent of the Europa League.

It was Colombia’s worst air disaster in two decades and there were only six survivors.

Global soccer was stunned with tributes pouring in from major figures from Pele to Lionel Messi.

The BAe 146 charter plane, en route from Bolivia where the team had a stopover, went down about 10:15 p.m. on Monday night with 68 passengers and a crew of nine on board.

The aircraft had reported electrical problems and declared an emergency minutes earlier as it neared its destination, Medellin airport officials said.

At the crash scene near the town of La Union in wooded highlands outside Medellin, dozens of bodies were laid out and covered with sheets around the wreckage.

The tail end of the plane virtually disintegrated in the crash. Rain hampered dozens of rescuers as they combed the muddy and forested area.

In addition to players, coaches and staff, 21 journalists had been on board the plane to cover the match, Brazilian news organizations said.

“We felt a loud, strong thud,” said German Lopez, 44, who grows flowers on the mountain range and could see the white wreckage from his kitchen.

“We ran to search for survivors. I saw someone die on a stretcher but helped save someone who was unconscious. I started to cry. I didn’t want my home known for this.”

Colombia’s civil aviation authority identified the six survivors as players Alan Ruschel, Jackson Follmann and Hélio Neto; journalist Rafael Valmorbida; Bolivian flight attendant Ximena Suarez; and Bolivian flight technician Erwin Tumiri.

Neto and Valmorbida were in “very delicate but stable” condition in intensive care, Dr. Guillermo Molina, head of a clinic treating them, told Reuters. Neto suffered trauma to his head, thorax and lungs, as well as open wounds to his knees.

Ruschel also was in intensive care but in stable condition, Dr. Ana Maria Gonzalez, director of another clinic also attending them, told Reuters. The two members of the flight staff were out of danger and under observation, she said.

Follmann had his right leg amputated, RCN radio reported, citing Chapecoense spokesman Gelson Dalla Costa.

Two black boxes were recovered from the crash site, Colombia’s government said.

LANDMARK GAME

It was the first time Chapecoense, a small club from the southern town of Chapeco which has had a fairy-tale rise since 2009 from Brazil’s fourth to top division, had reached the final of a major South American club competition.

Matches were canceled around South America, and Brazil declared three days of mourning. Atletico Nacional asked for Chapecoense to be awarded the trophy in honor of those who died.

Brazil’s fellow top division teams offered to loan players to Chapecoense for next season and also asked the Brazilian Football Confederation (CBF) to give the club a three-year exemption from relegation.

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

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