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Rescue workers carry a body away from he wreckage of a chartered airplane that crashed in La Union, a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday , Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
©Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
Chartered aircraft with 81 people on board, including Brazilian first division soccer team Chapecoense on way to regional tournament final
MEDELLIN, Colombia - A chartered plane carrying a Brazilian first division soccer team crashed outside Medellin while on its way to the finals of a regional tournament, killing 76 people, Colombian officials said Tuesday. Six people initially survived, but one of them later died in a hospital.
The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, operated by a charter airline named LaMia, declared an emergency and lost radar contact just before 10 p.m. Monday (0300 GMT) because of an electrical failure, aviation authorities said.
The aircraft, which had departed from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was transporting the Chapecoense soccer team from southern Brazil for the first leg Wednesday of a two-game Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional of Medellin.
“What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy,” Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez said from the search and rescue command centre.
The club said in a brief statement on its Facebook page that “may God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests travelling with our delegation.”
South America's soccer federation extended its condolences to the entire Chapecoense community and said its president, Alejandro Dominguez, was on his way to Medellin. All soccer activities were suspended until further notice, the organization said in a statement.
Dozens of rescuers working through the night were initially heartened after pulling three passengers alive from the wreckage. But as the hours passed, and heavy rainfall and low visibility grounded helicopters and complicated efforts to reach the mountainside crash site, the mood soured to the point that authorities had to freeze until dusk what was by then a body recovery operation.
Images broadcast on local television showed three passengers arriving to a local hospital in ambulances on stretchers and covered in blankets connected to an IV. Among the survivors was a Chapecoense defender named Alan Ruschel, who doctors said suffered spinal injuries. Two goalkeepers, Danilo and Jackson Follmann, as well as a member of the team's delegation and a Bolivian flight attendant, were found alive in the wreckage.
But Danilo later died while receiving hospital treatment, team spokesman Andrei Copetti told The Associated Press.
The plane was carrying 72 passengers and nine crew members, aviation authorities said in a statement. 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.
British Aerospace, which is now known as BAE Systems, says that the first 146-model plane took off in 1981 and that just under 400 - including the successor Avro RJ - were built in total in the U.K. through 2003. It says around 220 of are still in service in a variety of roles, including aerial firefighting and overnight freight services.
Alfredo Bocanegra, the head of Colombia's aviation authority, said initial reports suggest the aircraft was suffering electrical problems although investigators were also looking into an account from one of the survivors that the plane had run out of fuel about 5 minutes from its expected landing at Jose Maria Cordova airport outside Medellin.
A video published on the team's Facebook page showed the team readying for the flight earlier Monday in Sao Paulo's Guarulhos international airport. It wasn't immediately clear if the team switched planes in Bolivia or just made a stopover with the same plane.
The team, from the small city of Chapeco, was in the middle of a fairy tale season. It joined Brazil's first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it last week to the Copa Sudamericana finals - the equivalent of the UEFA Europa League tournament - after defeating two of Argentina's fiercest squads, San Lorenzo and Independiente, as well as Colombia's Junior.
“This morning I said goodbye to them and they told me they were going after the dream, turning that dream into reality,” Chapecoense board member told TV Globo. “The dream was over early this morning.”
The team is so modest that its 22,000-seat arena was ruled by tournament organizers too small to host the final match, which was instead moved to a stadium 300 miles (480 kilometres) to the north in the city of Curitiba.
“This is unbelievable, I am walking on the grass of the stadium and I feel like I am floating,” Copetti told the AP. “No one understands how a story that was so amazing could suffer such a devastating reversal. For many people here reality has still not struck.”
Joshua Goodman reported from Bogota. Associated Press writers Mauricio Savarese, Renata Brito and Steve Wade contributed to this report from Rio de Janeiro.
A look at the BAE 146, the plane that crashed near Medellin
By Pan Pylas And Adam Schreck
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
LONDON - The plane type that crashed near Medellin, Colombia, is a short-haul aircraft that has been used to land in hard-to-access airports and is increasingly used in firefighting duties.
Variants of the British Aerospace 146, or BAE 146, and a related model known as the Avro RJ have a maximum range of only about 1,700 nautical miles (1,955 miles).
Because they can take a steep approach to landing, these planes are able to use very short runways. The plane type is credited with helping turn around the fortunes of the small London City Airport in the late 1980s.
The plane has four jet engines suspended from a wing affixed to the top of the plane. Capacity depends on the configuration of the plane, with some capable of carrying more than 100 passengers.
David Dorman, a spokesman for BAE, said the plane that crashed near Medellin was capable of carrying a maximum of 100 passengers but was configured with more spacious seating at an 85-seat layout.
The plane had declared an emergency and lost radar contact just before 10 p.m. Monday (0300 GMT) because of an electrical failure, aviation authorities said. The aircraft, which had departed from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was transporting the Chapecoense soccer team from southern Brazil for the first leg of a two-game cup final.
At last count, 76 are believed to have died in the crash with five survivors.
British Aerospace, which became BAE Systems in 1999 following the merger with Marconi Electronic Systems, introduced the BAE 146 in 1981. Production ended in 2003 for economic reasons. The plane that crashed in Medellin was built in the late 1990s, according to Dorman.
A little under 400 aircraft from the BAE 146 stable were built and around 220 remain in service. Major clients have included British Airways, which used the plane for its London City Airport routes, Swiss and Ireland's CityJet.
Dorman said that the operator of the plane that crashed in Colombia, LaMia, originally took possession of four planes from Ireland's CityJet to fly in and around Venezuela, but the company couldn't get the necessary permits so two of the planes were taken to Bolivia and made available to charter.
BAE, through its plant in Prestwick, Scotland, remains responsible for checking airworthiness and engineering support.
Over the years, the model of plane has been configured for uses other than hauling passengers, including as tankers to put out forest fires. Around 30 of the original BAE 146s were built as freighters.
According to Dorman, 22 of the remaining fleet have been converted into firefighting roles, with more likely in coming years. Prominent operators include Canada's Conair and Neptune Aviation Services.
“It's a demonstration of the aircraft's ability to fly in difficult terrain,” Dorman said.
Dorman says the aircraft has “a pretty good safety record .... no better no worse than anything else.”
It has been involved in several deadly episodes over the years, but Dorman says “none were attributed to fault of the aircraft.”
The most notable crash involving the plane was in December 1987, when a Pacific Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco was hijacked by David Burke, a disgruntled ex-employee of USAir, which had recently bought Pacific. Burke is said to have shot the two pilots and three others. The plane subsequently crashed in Cayucos, California. All 43 people on board died, including Burke.
The last deadly crash involving the plane occurred in 2009, when a BAE 146 operated by Indonesia's Aviastar Mandiri struck a hill while attempting to land in the town of Wamena in the eastern Papua province. All six onboard were killed.
Most recently, in April 2014, a BAE 146 carrying 97 people made an emergency landing shortly after takeoff from Perth Airport in western Australia after one of its engines caught fire. No one on that flight, operated by Cobham Aviation Services, was injured. Cobham uses the plan to fly mineworkers in Western Australia from Perth.
BAE says it has contacted the U.K. Aircraft Accident Investigation Board and LaMia and is offering support to both parties.
Schreck reported from Dubai.
In this Nov. 2, 2016 photo, players of Brazil's Chapecoense team pose before a Copa Sudamericana soccer match against Argentina's San Lorenzo in Buenos Aires, Argentina. A plane carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional crashed in a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombian officials said Tuesday, Nov. 29. (AP Photo/Gustavo Garello)
Rescue workers carry the body of a man from a plane that crashed outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it's way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia's Atletico Nacional. (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)
©Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
A survivor of the air crash near Medellin, Colombia arrives a hospital in Medellin in this image taken from TV Tuesday Nov. 29, 2016. Colombian officials say that a chartered plane carrying a Brazilian first division soccer team has crashed near Medellin while on its way to the finals of a regional tournament, killing scores of people. (Medellin TV via AP)