Plane carrying Brazilian soccer team crashes in Colombia

NBC News

Five people survived and 76 others were killed when a plane carrying a Brazilian professional soccer team crashed in Colombia, authorities said.

Gen. Jose Acevedo, the head of police in the mountainous area of jungle where the jet came down, confirmed the deaths to reporters early Tuesday. “Six people were rescued alive, but unfortunately one died,” he added.  

Poor weather conditions had been reported at the time of the crash. At one point, rescue operations were suspended due to heavy rain.

The chartered jet operated by LaMia was carrying Chapecoense, a soccer team which plays in Brazil’s top division.

It crashed at around 10 p.m. ET on Monday while on its way from Santa Cruz in Bolivia to Medellin’s international airport, which is located at an elevation of 7,000 feet.

Image: Wreckage of the LaMia jet
Wreckage of the LaMia jet on Tuesday. Luis Benavides / AP

Alfredo Bocanegra, the head of Colombia’s civil aviation agency, said that communication with Bolivian aviation officials suggested the plane was experiencing electrical problems. However, he added that investigators would have to evaluate reported testimony from a female flight attendant who said the plane had run out of fuel.

Authorities said the five survivors included soccer player Alan Ruschel, flight attendant Ximena Suarez and aircraft mechanic Erwin Tumiri.

Image: Chapecoense defender Alan Ruschel
Chapecoense defender Alan Ruschel, right, fights for the ball with Palmeiras player Moises during a match on Sunday. Ruschel survived a plane crash the following night. Friedemann Vogel / Getty Images

A doctor who appeared on Colombian TV said that Ruschel was being operated on after suffering multiple injuries to his limbs and a lumbar spine fracture. The 27-year-old defender was in an intensive care unit.

Suarez was listed in stable condition while Tumiri suffered non-life threatening injuries, hospital officials said.

Chapecoense had been scheduled to play the first of a two-game Copa Sudamericana final against Medellin-based Atlético Nacional on Wednesday.

“What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy,” Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez said from the search and rescue command center.

Image: Brazilian soccer player Alan Ruschel following plane crash in Colombia
Chapecoense player Alan Ruschel receives medical attention after surviving Monday night’s plane crash. Guillermo Ossa / Reuters

Brazilian President Michel Temer decreed three days of national mourning.

In addition to players and coaches, several reporters were among the 72 passengers and nine crew members on board the jet.

In a statement issued early Tuesday, Chapecoense said: “May God be with our athletes, directors, journalists and the other guests that were traveling together.”

Airport authorities said access to the crash site could only be made by land due to the weather.

Local radio said the same aircraft transported Argentina’s national squad for a match earlier this month in Brazil, and previously had transported Venezuela’s national team.

The team aboard Flight LMI-2933 is from the small southern Brazilian city of Chapeco — which has a population of about 200,000.

It was in the middle of a fairy tale season.

Chapecoense joined Brazil’s first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and last week qualified for the Copa Sudamericana finals — the equivalent of the UEFA Europa League tournament — after defeating Argentina’s San Lorenzo squad.

Image: Chapecoense soccer team on Nov. 23
Members of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team before their semifinal match of the South American Cup on Wednesday. MARCIO CUNHA / EPA

They were considered underdogs against Atlético Nacional.

Their best-known player was Cleber Santana, a midfielder whose best years were spent in Spain with Athletico Madrid and Mallorca.

Coach Caio Junior was also experienced, having managed at some of Brazil’s biggest clubs, Botafogo, Flamengo and Palmeiras among them.

Chapecoense were the 21st biggest club in Brazil in terms of revenue, bringing in $13.5 million in 2015, according to an annual rich list compiled by the Itau BBA bank.

They were currently 9th in the 20-team league with one game of the season to go.

The crash evoked memories of Munich air disaster in 1958, which killed 23 people including eight Manchester United players, journalists and traveling officials.

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