The death toll from the crash in Colombia of an airliner carrying 81 people, including a Brazilian football team, rose to 76 Tuesday as officials said at least six people survived the disaster.
“Six people were rescued alive, but unfortunately one died. The rest of the occupants unfortunately died. The tragic toll is 76 victims,” Jose Gerardo Acevedo, regional police commander, told journalists earlier.
Colombia’s disaster risk management agency said they later rescued a sixth survivor of the crash, player Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, who is in the process of being evacuated.
“The possibility that other people will be found alive has not been ruled out,” the agency said.
“It appears that the plane ran out of fuel,” Elkin Ospina, the mayor of the nearby town of La Ceja, told AFP.
He said authorities were on the scene and hospitals and medical centres were preparing to receive the injured.
The plane crashed late Monday near the Colombian city of Medellin, officials said. The LaMia aircraft was flying from Bolivia to Medellin when it crashed in an area called Cerro Gordo about 50 kilometres from the city, Colombia’s second largest.
Jose Maria Cordova de Rionegro airport, which serves Medellin said in a statement, “all possible aid was being mobilised”.
The airport also confirmed that among the 72 passengers and nine crew were members of Chapecoense Real, a Brazilian football club that was supposed to play against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional Wednesday in the South American Cup finals.
“Confirmed, the aircraft license number CP2933 was carrying the team @ChapecoenseReal. Apparently there are survivors,” the Jose Maria Cordova de Rionegro airport said on its Twitter account.
On its Twitter account, the Medellin airport said the crash site could only be reached overland because of bad weather in the area.
‘Aircraft split in two’
A Reuters photographer at the scene said dozens of bodies were laid out and covered with sheets around the wreckage as some 30 rescuers, police and military personnel searched the crash site of the plane that had had 81 people aboard.
He said the BAe 146 charter aircraft had split in two with only the nose and wings recognisable and the tail end completely destroyed in the crash.
Colombia’s civil aeronautics agency said it had a team at the airport in response to the crash.
‘Pain is terrible’, says Chapecoense VP
The vice-president of the Brazilian club Chapecoense whose plane crashed in Colombia on Tuesday lamented that the tragedy had struck at the cruellest moment.
“The pain is terrible. Just as we had made it, I will not say to the top, but to have national prominence, a tragedy like this happens. It is very difficult, a very great tragedy,” club vice-president Ivan Tozzo told SportTV.
Officials opened the club’s stadium at Chapeco in the state of Santa Caterina in Brazil’s south to console the grieving families and fans.
“We’re all here at the stadium to help the people connected,” said Tozzo.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet. We have to trust in God. Our team must carry on,” he said.
The small team’s biggest game yet
Chapecoense, from Brazil’s top league, had been flying in to face Atletico Nacional of Medellin in the first leg of Wednesday’s Sudamericana final, South America’s equivalent of the Europa League.
The club said in a statement that it would not be making any official comments until it had more information from Colombian authorities about Monday night’s crash. Brazilian media reported that three players were among the survivors.
It was the first time the small club from Chapeco had reached the final of a major South American club competition but they were underdogs against a club going for a rare double after winning the Copa Libertadores in July.
Chapecoense were the 21st biggest club in Brazil in terms of revenue, bringing in 46 million reals ($13.5 million) in 2015, according to an annual rich list compiled by Brazilian bank Itau BBA.
The club has built its success on a frugal spending policy that eschewed big money signings and instead concentrated on blending young talent and experienced journeymen.
Their best-known player was Cleber Santana, a midfielder whose best years were spent in Spain with Atletico Madrid and Mallorca.
Coach Caio Junior was also experienced, having managed at some of Brazil’s biggest clubs, Botafogo, Flamengo and Palmeiras among them
The South American football federation suspended all games and other activities following the crash.
The crash evoked memories of Munich air disaster in 1958, which killed 23 people, including eight Manchester United players, journalists and travelling officials.
World governing body FIFA said on Twitter its “thoughts were with the victims, their families, fans of Chapecoense and media organisations in Brazil on this tragic day”.
Brazilian President Michel Temer expressed his grief: “I express my solidarity in this sad hour during which tragedy has beset dozens of Brazilian families,” he said, adding that Brazil’s foreign ministry and Air Force were working to assist the relatives.
“The government will do all it can to alleviate the pain of the friends and family of sport and national journalism.” Agencies