A plane crash in the mountains outside Medellin, Colombia, has killed 75 people and left six survivors who are now fighting for their lives in hospital, authorities reported early Tuesday morning.
The plane was chartered by a Brazilian soccer team, Atletico Chapecoense, to fly to Medellin for the championship game of the Copa Sudamericana, a prestigious continental club tournament.
Many of those who died in the crash were soccer players in their twenties and thirties, along with coaches, journalists, and guests of the team who had boarded the eight-hour flight to Colombia.
The causes of the accident are still being investigated. Colombia’s Civil Aviation Authority says the plane, a BAE Avro 146, might have run out of fuel. The captain also reported electrical malfunctions in his last call to the tower in Medellin at 9:45 PM, about 15 min before the crash. Communication was lost after that. Witnesses report the crash happened around 10 PM in a mountainous area, some 70 miles outside of Medellin.
Atletico Chapecoense was a Cinderella team that was en route to the most important game in its club’s history. The team, which hails from Chapeco, a town of about 200,000 people in southern Brazil, lingered in Brazil’s lower divisions for three decades before making an astonishing surge in recent years. Chapecoense made it into Brazil’s first division in 2014, where it competed against perennial powerhouse teams like Flamengo and Corinthians.
The club’s rise to greatness became even more surprising this year as the team made it all the way to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, after upsetting Argentine’s Independiente and San Lorenzo, as well as Colombia’s Atletico Junior. The players celebrated in this locker room video after qualifying for the finals last Wednesday:
Before boarding their flight to Medellin, Chapecoense players shared what would be their final pictures on social media. In this video posted to Twitter right before the plane took off, defender Filipe Machado jokes around with his teammates while making victory signs.
Goalkeeper Danilo Padilha and Defender Alan Ruschel took this selfie just prior to takeoff. Both of them were among the six crash survivors, but Padilha later died of injuries in a Colombian hospital.
There was also time for a final group photo before the flight left from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where the team made a brief layover.
Now most of the team is gone. Only three players survived the crash, along with two crew members and a Brazilian TV journalist.
In Copeco, fans have gathered outside the team’s stadium to pray for the relatives of the deceased, and for the recovery of the survivors.
Brazil’s President Michel Temer has declared three days of national mourning. The government is helping the relatives of the victims to fly to Medellin to receive the bodies of their loved ones.
The crash is thought to be the worst for a professional soccer team since 1993, when a plane carrying Zambia’s national team fell into the sea, killing everyone on board.
Soccer teams across the world are paying their respects to Chapecoense. Barcelona and Real Madrid today held moments of silence for the Brazilian players at the beginning of their training sessions.
Atletico Nacional, the Colombian team that was set to face Atletico Chapecoense in this Wednesday’s championship match, is asking tournament organizers to give this year’s Copa Sudamericana trophy to their deceased rivals.
“You came here for your dream,” Nacional said in a tweet. “Now you will leave as legends.”