Chapecoense plane crash: fans' anger after confirmation plane ran out of fuel

Colombian media release audio of pilot telling air traffic controllers that plane – which crashed killing 71 players, crew and journalists – was ‘without fuel’

Football, religion and grief dominated the emotional requiem service in Southern Brazil on Wednesday night for the 71 players, technical staff, sports journalists and crew killed when a plane chartered by local team Chapecoense crashed on a Colombian mountainside on Wednesday night.

But there was anger too, at the reports circulating that the plane had run out of fuel. On Wednesday night Brazil’s O Globo newspaper said Colombian civil aviation authorities had confirmed there was no fuel in the aircraft’s tank and have opened an investigation.

Delays getting from São Paulo to Bolivia, where the team chartered the plane that crashed, meant a planned refuelling stop in Cobija, Bolivia, was abandoned because the airport does not operate at night, O Globo said.

It was a mistake, said Nataly Ferranti, 16, from the team’s female youth team, that “ended lives, ended Chapecoense”.

“I feel indignation,” she said.

Players who did not travel on the fatal flight paid tribute to their teammates at the club’s stadium in Chapecó.
Players who did not travel on the fatal flight paid tribute to their teammates at the club’s stadium in Chapecó. Photograph: Douglas Magno/AFP/Getty Images

A leaked recording of the final minutes of the doomed flight revealed a sometimes chaotic exchange with the air traffic tower, with the pilot repeatedly requesting authorisation to land because of “fuel problems”. A controller explained another plane had been diverted with mechanical problems and had priority, instructing the pilot to wait seven minutes.

As the plane circled in a holding pattern, the pilot grew more desperate. “Complete electrical failure, without fuel,” he said in the tense final moments before the plane set off on a four-minute death spiral that ended with it slamming into a mountainside on Monday night.

Just before going silent the pilot made a final plea to land: “Vectors, señorita. Landing vectors.”

Chapecoense crash map

On Wednesday night, at Chapecoense’s Condá Arena, a Catholic priest and two evangelical preachers led prayers as fans wearing the team’s green and white sang, cried and waved scarves and banners.

“Switch on your cellphones. Switch on the lights of your cellphones. It is the light of God within us,” an announcer implored the crowd at one point. Applause greeted the light show that followed.

But the peak of an intensely emotional evening came when the players and coaching staff who had not been on the flight, joined by players from the youth teams, ran a lap of honour, some clutching each other as tears poured down their faces and the roars of the crowd echoed around them.

“It helped a lot,” said João Lima, a youth team player who ran in the lap of honour. “So many brothers lost in such a short time. But we have to go forward and overcome.”

Thousands of people gathered at Atanasio Girardot stadium in Medellín to pay tribute to the players of Chapecoense.
Thousands of people gathered at Atanasio Girardot stadium in Medellín to pay tribute to the players of Chapecoense. Photograph: Luis Eduardo Noriega A/EPA

Fans flooded into the Condá Arena long before the service began. This modest little stadium is named after the club’s emblem, an indigenous warrior of the same name. A statue on a nearby roundabout shows him pulling back his bow and arrow, with neat white and green brushstrokes of colour on his cheeks.

The word “warrior” was used in the service to describe the 19 players who died on their way to their first-ever international final, the first leg of the South American Cup, against Medellín’s Atlético Nacional.

The Colombian team also held a service on Wednesday for a huge crowd. “I don’t have words to describe the scale of what the Colombian people did today,” tweeted Brazilian journalist and blogger Raphael Tsavvko.

“Warrior” is widely used in Brazil to describe those who struggle against the odds – just like this team of non-league underdogs who entered Brazil’s fourth division only in 2009, and yet by 2014 were playing in its premier league.

There was long, intense applause when the players’ photographs, and those of the technical staff who died, appeared on big screens.

Six survivors – including three Chapecoense players – are recovering in hospitals, with three of them in a critical but stable condition.

A Chapecoense fan at the vigil in Chapecó.
A Chapecoense fan at the vigil in Chapecó. Photograph: Andre Penner/AP

The club’s mascot, Cleiton Majolo, a driver’s assistant, wears a costume based on the indigenous warrior Condá.

“It is a nightmare for us that we will not see our friends. It seems like we will never wake up,” Majolo said before the service, having removed his plastic mask. He would have gone on the trip to Colombia, he said, if he had only had a passport. “And I wouldn’t be here,” he said.

Local psychologists have been volunteering to help the club’s survivors deal with the trauma. But recovery will be a slow process, André Pedrosa, one of those offering their work for free, said earlier on Wednesday.

“It is a wound that has been opened and people will have to learn to live with it,” he said. “Pain, and a lot of suffering.”

After the ceremony, as supporters still sang team songs, many loitered on the pitch. Caroline Machado and her friend Samira Reis hugged each other and cried.

Machado grew up around the club. Her uncle Eduardo Preuss, known as Cadu Gaúcho, was a key member of the coaching staff that had put together a team of underdogs good enough to reach the final of the second most important trophy in South America. He died in the crash. But the team will play on, she vowed.

“We will not let this story die,” she said. “They would not have wanted us to.”

Chapecoense fans mourn plane crash victims at football stadium

Associated Press contributed to this report.

• The map graphic in this article was corrected on 2 December 2016.

Contributor

Dom Phillips in Chapecó

The GuardianTramp

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