A star has fallen

I lost 20 journalist colleagues in the Colombian plane crash

AFP/Getty Images

I’m a journalist who’s proud to be from the beautiful southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina. Last Tuesday, I woke up with a notification on my cellphone from the newspaper where I work: The plane carrying the Chapecoense soccer team had crashed in Colombia.

What was unclear at that time, around 6 AM in Madrid, Spain, where I am taking a Masters in Visual and Digital Media, was how bad the crash had been. An hour later, during a press release by Colombian authorities, they started talking about the survivors, which meant people had died. My heartbeat accelerated. Then I learned journalists had been on the flight. My heart accelerated even faster. Twenty-one journalists, in fact. And only one survived.

My heartbeat still hasn’t returned to its normal pace.

Eleven of the journalists who died in the crash worked in my home state. Five of them were employed at at the same media group I work for.

When I got the first news of the crash, I sent a frantic WhatsApp message to my friend back in Brazil, begging her to please tell me that my friend and coworker, André Podiacki, was not on the list of dead passengers.

Instead, my friend wrote back saying the a list wasn’t official yet. I started shaking. I thought I was going to throw up. I couldn’t feel my legs. I sent another message to my editor-in-chief, begging the same question. He confirmed my fears: André was on the list. We had lost one of our most special reporters.

I fell apart.

I met André 6 years ago, when he was a content assistant. He hadn’t even graduated with his journalism degree yet. We were both new to the company. Already he was impressive. Not just smart, but clever. Not just restless, but relentless. We became good friends. He was the kind of guy everyone wants as a best friend.

André was loved and admired by everyone who knew him. He was just 26 years old.

André was loved and admired by everyone who knew him. He was just 26 years old.

I envied other journalists who had the chance to work closer with him, side by side in the sports section. I knew right away that he was going to be a star.

He was just 26 years old when he died. It was his first international trip to cover a story. International coverage isn’t for everyone. You have to earn it. You have to be prepared. André was.

André was even learning Russian to prepare himself to cover the next World Cup. His smiling face was on Page 1 of the newspaper on the morning of his death. Not as an obituary, but his final byline. It was an article about the journey he had started the night before to cover the championship match in Colombia. A journey that ended tragically, 20 kilometers shy of the airport in Medellin.

André's final byline, which came out on the front page of the newspaper on the morning of his death

André's final byline, which came out on the front page of the newspaper on the morning of his death

We lost a lot of other young and experienced journalists along with André. This is one of the greatest tragedies ever involving the press. Rafael Henzel, of Rádio Oeste in Chapecó, was the only journalist to survive the crash. He’s still in the hospital.

Being half a world away from my fellow journalists and family back in Brazil does not help. It makes it all worse. It makes me even angrier, infuriated. I can’t hug anyone. I can’t cry over any shoulders of my coworkers.

My only way of dealing with this tragedy is to read the thousands of articles on webpages. And read e-mails. One from my company, before we had all confirmed, said that they were “offering support to families members.” Another one, later, expressed condolences and confirmed the loss. I’ve also written e-mails, and read the replies.

One for my former editor, who was André’s editor, made me cry the most. He told me that had to go knock on the family’s front door that morning to give them the worst news imaginable.

I also been tweeting like crazy. I’ve shared tons of information on Facebook. But nothing I can do helps.

Press organizations in Brazil, such ABERT (Brazilian Association of Radio and Television Broadcasters), ANER (National Association of Magazine Editors) and ANJ (National Association of Newspapers) have issued a statement lamenting the tragedy, expressing sympathy and solidarity with the relatives of “the professionals victimized in the fulfilment of their activity.”

And that’s something to remember. They died doing what they loved. I can assure you that the 20 journalists who were on board the plane were completely and immensely happy to be traveling with the team to the championship game. They were about to witness a historical moment for our beloved local soccer team.

André, the star, was going to be there when Chapecoense became the champions. I just didn’t expect that his star, along with those from all the players and journalists he loved on that plane, would shine from the heavens instead of the soccer field.

Tonight, those 71 stars—including 20 journalists—form their own, eternal constellation above Brazil.

The 20 journalists we lost:

  1. Victorino Chermont – 43 years old – FOX
  2. Rodrigo Santana Gonçalves – 35 years old – FOX
  3. Deva Pascovicci – 51 years old – FOX
  4. Lilacio Pereira Jr. 48 years old – FOX
  5. Paulo Clement – 51 years old – FOX
  6. Mário Sérgio – 66 years old – FOX
  7. Guilherme Marques – 28 years old – Globo
  8. Ari de Araújo Jr. – 48 years old – Globo
  9. Guilherme Laars – 48 years old – Globo
  10. Giovane Klein Victória – 28 years old – RBS (repórter da RBS TV de Chapecó)
  11. Bruno Mauri da Silva – 25 years old – RBS (técnico da RBS TV de Florianópolis)
  12. Djalma Araújo Neto – 35 years old – RBS (cinegrafista da RBS TV de Florianópolis)
  13. André Podiacki – 26 years old – RBS (repórter do Diário Catarinense)
  14. Laion Espindula – 29 years old – RBS (repórter do Globo Esporte – Chapecó)
  15. Renan Agnolin – 27 years old – Rádio Super Condá
  16. Gelson Galiotto – 41 years old – Rádio Super Condá
  17. Fernando Schardong – 36 years old – Rádio Chapecó
  18. Edson Ebeliny – 39 years old – Rádio Chapecó
  19. Douglas Dorneles Rádio Chapecó
  20. Jacir Biavatti – 46 years old – Rádio Chapecó

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