A chartered plane carrying a first-division Brazilian soccer team to a historic game slammed into a Colombian hillside Monday night, killing 76 of the 81 people aboard, many of whom were players, coaches and invited guests of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team.
The Avro RJ85 was en route Monday night from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to Medellin when it crashed near the town of La Unión, about 53 miles from the Medellín airport, around midnight local time.
Seven people initially survived the crash, including Chapecoense players Alan Ruschel, Jackson Follmann, and Neto. The goalkeeper Danilo also initially survived the crash but died a short time later from his injuries, bringing the official death toll to 76 people. The latest available information suggests that two crew members and a journalist are also among the survivors.
It is not immediately clear what caused the short-haul, British Aerospace 146 to crash, but heavy rains and thunderstorms hit Colombia around the time of the tragedy and authorities said the plane reported electrical problems as it flew in the mountainous stretches near the towns of La Ceja and La Unión.
From Cinderella story to nightmare
In a modern-day Cinderella story, the Brazilian soccer team was in the midst of a fairy-tale season after rising from relative obscurity in just a few short years. In less than a decade, the club team rose from the nation’s “D” league, to reach the top division of Brazilian soccer in 2014 and achieve a devoted national fan base.
The team was scheduled to play in the first leg of the Copa Sudamerica finals—one of South America’s most prestigious tournaments—on Wednesday in Medellin,Colombia. More than 20 journalists joined the team on the flight in anticipation of Wednesday’s game, in what was supposed to be a heartwarming chapter in a fairytale story for a team of unlikely champions.
The tragedy stunned the soccer-mad nation of Brazil. President Michel Temer declared three days of national mourning and mobilized the foreign affairs and defense ministries to assist families of the victims. Brazil’s embassy in Bogota was reaching out to families, and planes were made available to transport them to Colombia and to aid in the search and rescue effort.
“The government will do everything possible to ease the pain of the family and friends of sport and national journalism,” Temer said.
The Chapecoense soccer club is from the city of Chapeco, a southern Brazlian city of about 200,000 people and located about 800 miles southwest of Rio de Janeiro. The club was founded in 1973 and is ninth in the Brazilian top division, Serie A. The team was the underdog in the Copa Sudamericana final against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional. The competition has been compared to the Europa League in Europe.