Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense plane crash in Colombia kills 71; 6 survive

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A chartered plane carrying a Brazilian soccer team crashed into a Colombian hillside and broke into pieces, killing 71 people and leaving six survivors. (WLS)

Colombian authorities searched for answers Tuesday into the crash of a chartered airliner that slammed into the Andes mountains while transporting a Brazilian soccer team whose Cinderella story had won it a spot in the finals of one of South America's most prestigious regional tournaments. All but six of the 77 people on board were killed.


Colombia's transportation ministry confirmed to ABC News Tuesday afternoon that all 71 bodies were recovered. Colombia's civil aviation authority, Aeronautica Civil, told ABC News the six survivors were found on the ground, not in the fuselage.

The civil aviation authority also named the six survivors;
-Ximena Suarez, a flight attendant
-Erwin Tumiri, an aircraft technician
-Alan Luciano Ruschel, a Brazilian soccer player
-Jackson Ragnar Follmann, a Brazilian goalie
-Helio Hermito Zampier, a Brazilian soccer player
-Rafael Valmorbida, a journalist

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72 passengers and 9 crew members were onboard a flight that crashed in Colombia. Members of the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense were among those killed.



The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane declared an emergency and lost radar contact just before 10 p.m. Monday (0300 GMT Tuesday), according to Colombia's aviation agency. It said the plane's black boxes had been recovered and were being analyzed.

The aircraft, which departed from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was carrying the Chapecoense soccer team from southern Brazil for Wednesday's first leg of the two-game Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional of Medellin. Twenty-one Brazilian journalists were also on board the flight.

Colombian officials initially said the plane suffered an electrical failure but there was also heavy rainfall at the time of the crash. Authorities also said they were not ruling out the possibility, relayed to rescuers by a surviving flight attendant, that the plane ran out of fuel minutes before its scheduled landing at Jose Maria Cordova airport outside Medellin.

Whatever the cause, the emotional pain of Colombia's deadliest air tragedy in two decades was felt across the soccer world.

Expressions of grief poured in as South America's federation canceled all scheduled matches in a show of solidarity, Real Madrid's squad interrupted its training for a minute of silence and Argentine legend Diego Maradona sent his condolences to the victims' families over Facebook.

Brazil's top teams offered to loan the small club players next season so they can rebuild following the sudden end to a fairy tale season that saw Chapecoense reach the tournament final just two years after making it into the first division for the first time since the 1970s. "It is the minimum gesture of solidarity that is within our reach," the teams said in a statement.

Sportsmanship also prevailed, with Atletico Nacional asking that the championship title be given to its rival, whose upstart run had electrified soccer-crazed Brazil.

Rescuers working through the night were initially heartened after pulling three people alive from the wreckage. But as the hours passed, heavy fog and stormy weather grounded helicopters and slowed efforts to reach the crash site.

At daybreak, dozens of bodies scattered across a muddy mountainside were collected into white bags. They were then loaded onto several Black Hawk helicopters that had to perform a tricky maneuver to land on the crest of the Andes mountains. The plane's fuselage appeared to have broken into two, with the nose facing downward into a steep valley.

Officials initially reported 81 people were on board the flight, but later revised that to 77, saying four people on the flight manifest did not get on the plane.

Images broadcast on local television showed three of the six survivors on stretchers and connected to IVs arriving at a hospital in ambulances. Chapecoense defender Alan Ruschel was in the most serious condition, and was later transported to another facility to undergo surgery for a spinal fracture. Teammates Helio Zampier and Jakson Follmann also suffered multiple trauma injuries, with doctors having to amputate the goalkeeper Follmann's right leg.

A journalist traveling with the team was recovering from surgery and two Bolivian crew members were in stable condition, hospital officials said.

The aircraft is owned by LaMia, a charter company that started off in Venezuela but later relocated to Bolivia, where it was certified to operate last January. Despite such apparently limited experience the airline has a close relationship with several premier South American squads.

Earlier this month, the plane involved in Monday's crash transported Barcelona forward Lionel Messi and the Argentina national team from Brazil following a World Cup qualifier match. The airliner also appears to have transported the national squads of Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela over the last three months, according to a log of recent activity provided by Flightradar24.com.

Before being taken offline, LaMia's website said it operated three 146 Avro short-haul jets made by British Aerospace, with a maximum range of around 2,965 kilometers (1,600 nautical miles) - about the same as the distance between Santa Cruz and Medellin..

Hans Weber, a longtime adviser to U.S. aviation authorities, said the aircraft's range deserves careful investigation. He noted that the air distance between cities is usually measured by the shortest route but planes rarely fly in a straight line - pilots may steer around turbulence or change course for other reasons.

Given the model of the plane and that it was flying close to capacity, "I would be concerned that the pilots may have been cutting it too close," Weber said.

Bolivia's civil aviation agency said the aircraft picked up the Brazilian team in Santa Cruz, where the players had arrived on a commercial flight from Sao Paulo. Spokesman Cesar Torrico said the plane underwent an inspection before departing for Colombia and reported no problems.

"We can't rule out anything. The investigation is ongoing and we're going to await the results," said Gustavo Vargas, a retired Bolivian air force general who is president of the airline.

Colombian authorities said they hope to interview the Bolivian flight attendant who relayed the fuel concerns on Wednesday.

Moments before the flight departed, the team's coaching staff gave an interview to a Bolivian television station in which they praised the airline, saying it brought them good fortune when it flew them to Colombia last month for the championship's quarterfinals, which they won.

"Now we're going to do this new trip and we hope they bring us good luck like they did the first time," athletic director Mauro Stumpf told the Gigavision TV network.

The team, from the small Brazilian agro-industrial city of Chapeco, was in the midst of a breakout season. It advanced last week to the Copa Sudamericana finals after defeating some of the region's top teams, including Argentina's San Lorenzo and Independiente, as well as Colombia's Junior.

The team is so modest that tournament organizers ruled that its 22,000-seat arena was too small to host the final match, which was moved to a stadium 300 miles (480 kilometers) to the north, in the city of Curitiba.

The team won over fans across Brazil with its spectacular run to the finals, with some even taking up a campaign online to move the final match to Rio de Janeiro's iconic Maracana stadium, where the 2014 World Cup finals were played.

The tragedy of so many young and talented players' lives and dreams cut short brought an outpouring of support far beyond Brazil's borders. Atletico Nacional said in a statement it was offering its title to the team, saying the accident "leaves an indelible mark on the history of Latin American and world soccer."

Closer to home, fans mourned the terrible loss.

"This morning I said goodbye to them and they told me they were going after the dream, turning that dream into reality," Chapecoense board member Plinio De Nes told Brazil's TV Globo. "The dream was over early this morning."

Chapecoense striker had just found out he would be a dad

A week ago, Chapecoense striker Tiaguinho was jumping for joy after finding out that he was going to be a father for the first time.

On Tuesday, he was among the Chapecoense players believed to have been killed when the plane carrying the Brazilian club to the biggest game of its history crashed in Colombia.

The 22-year-old Tiaguinho got the news that his wife, Graziele, was expecting their child when his teammates delivered a package at the team's hotel with a note from his wife and little baby shoes.

After the crash, the video of the young player celebrating and being embraced by his teammates went viral on social media.

Only three Chapecoense players are believed to have survived the crash - left back Alan Ruschel, defender Helio "Neto" Zampier and reserve goalkeeper Jakson Follmann.

Several players did not make the trip, either because of injuries or because they had not been playing recently. Among the injured were Argentine forward Alejandro Martinuccio and rising star Hyoran, who recently reached a deal to play for Brazilian champion Palmeiras in the beginning of next year.

The 25-year-old son of Chapecoense coach Caio Junior, Matheus Saroli, didn't travel because he found out at the airport that he had forgotten his passport.

Chapeco Mayor Luciano Buligon also was expected to be on the plane, but he didn't make the flight because of a last-minute meeting scheduled before the trip.

Here is a look at some of Chapecoense's players and officials who were traveling to Colombia for the first leg of the final against Atletico Nacional in the Copa Sudamericana, the equivalent of UEFA's Europa League:

CAIO JUNIOR

Position: Coach

Age: 51

History: A former player, Caio Junior had said this week that "without a doubt" he was enjoying "the best moment" of his career. He had previously coached some of Brazil's top teams, including Flamengo, Botafogo and Palmeiras, but it was with Chapecoense that he finally received the credit that he felt he deserved. He also successfully coached in Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

ANDERSON PAIXAO

Position: Physical trainer

Age: 37

History: He is the son of Paulo Paixao, who was the physical trainer of Brazil's national team when it won the 2002 World Cup under coach Luiz Felipe Scolari. In addition to working at Chapecoense, he was also a member of the Brazilian national team. Local media said one of Anderson Paixao's sons turned 9 years old on Tuesday. Paulo Paixao had already lost a 25-year-old son because of heart failure in 2002.

TIAGUINHO

Position: Striker

Age: 22

History: The speedy forward scored the team's last goal before the trip to Colombia, a powerful left-footed shot that gave his team a 2-0 win over Sao Paulo in the Brazilian league. Tiaguinho found out a week ago that he was going to be a father for the first time.

CLEBER SANTANA

Position: Midfielder

Age: 35
History: The team captain, Santana was one of the most experienced members of the squad, having played in some of the country's top teams including Sao Paulo, Santos and Flamengo. After succeeding in Brazil, he was signed by Atletico Madrid and stayed with the Spanish club from 2007-10. He also played briefly in Japan earlier in his career. Santana had been with Chapecoense since 2015.

BRUNO RANGEL

Position: Striker

Age: 34

History: An idol in Chapeco, Rangel was the team's all-time top scorer with 81 goals, including a club best 10 goals from this year's Brazilian league. He arrived at Chapecoense in 2013 and immediately led the club to the top flight as the leading scorer in the second division with a record 31 goals. The success led to a move to Qatari club Al-Arabi, but he returned to Chapecoense in 2014, becoming crucial to the team's successful campaigns recently.

DANILO

Position: Goalkeeper

Age: 31

History: Danilo became a hero after his last-minute save secured a 0-0 draw against Argentina's San Lorenzo in the second leg of the semifinals of the Copa Sudamericana last week, a result that led the club to the final against Atletico Nacional. He became an instant sensation thanks to the decisive stop and was invited to television shows across the country. He was among the players rescued from the crash but later died from his injuries.

EVERTON KEMPES

Position: Forward

Age: 34

History: The veteran player was one of the team's leading scorers in this year's Brazilian league with nine goals, one less than Bruno Rangel. After arriving at the beginning of the season, he became a key figure in Chapecoense's attack.

ANANIAS

Position: Forward

Age: 27

History: Ananias was a guaranteed starter for Chapecoense, but was better known for having spoiled Palmeiras' party when it inaugurated its new stadium a few years ago. He scored the first goal at the venue, leading Sport - his team at the time - to a stunning 2-0 win.

FILIPE MACHADO

Position: Defender

Age: 32

History: The defender was one of Chapecoense's players with the most experience internationally after playing for small clubs in Spain, Italy and Russia. He filmed a video from inside the plane just before the team started the trip to Colombia.

JOSIMAR

Position: Midfielder

Age: 30

History: A leader of the team in midfield, Josimar was one of the club's most experienced players after stints with top teams such as Palmeiras and Internacional.

20 journalists among dead in Colombia plane crash

Colombian aviation authorities said 21 of the 77 people aboard the charter flight were journalists covering the Chapecoense team from southern Brazil and its upcoming South American Cup match in Medellin, Colombia.

One journalist was among the six survivors: Rafael Valmorbida of Radio Oeste Capital, a station in the Brazilian city of Chapeco, where the team is based.

"We lost more than just a team," said the station's website. "We lost friends, partners, colleagues and family members."

The station called for prayers for Valmorbida's recovery, and for three other station journalists who died.

The journalists, all men, included cameramen, photographers, commentators and reporters from radio stations in Brazil as well as larger media outlets such as Fox and Globo, a large Brazilian conglomerate.

Among them was Globo's Ari de Araujo.

"Ari was like a brother to me," said Pedro Bassan, a sports and general news reporter at Globo who had worked with Araujo for 20 years. "I'll never have dinner with him again, or be able to get into an argument."

Bassan said Araujo was a cameraman with the "ability to shoot movie-quality video at the speed of journalism." He was traveling with the team for a special report.

Marco Guarizzo, a presenter on CBN radio in southern Brazil, said staff members were struggling with the news that director Deva Pascovicci was on the flight. The shock was so great that the station staffers had trouble producing local content, turning to material from affiliates. By the afternoon, some members of the small team, which includes two presenters and five reporters, held a meeting.

"If (Pascovicci) were here, he would want us working, and working a lot" on the story, said Guarizzo, adding that his boss was both demanding and kind.

Fox lost six journalists, including commentator Mario Sergio Pontes de Paiva, a former midfielder who played briefly for Brazil's national team in the early 1980s, and who coached for several Brazilian clubs, most recently Internacional in 2009 and Ceara in 2010.

"Amid profound sadness and consternation over what happened, we are following minute-by-minute as new information comes out," said Carlos Martinez, president of Fox Networks Group Latin America, in a statement.

WLS-TV contributed to this report.
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