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Brazilian footballers among 75 dead in Colombia air crash

Brazil went into mourning on Tuesday over the loss of 75 people, including most of the players of one the country’s up-and-coming football teams, in a plane crash near the Colombian city of Medellín.

Brazil’s soccer federation delayed all matches for a week and the nation’s feuding politicians put their infighting aside for a day to send their condolences to the families of players and officials from Chapecoense, a club based in the small city of Chapecó in the southern state of Santa Catarina. Three days of mourning have been declared in the country.

There were six survivors among the 72 passengers and nine crew aboard the aircraft. The Colombian civil aviation authority named them as players Alan Ruschel, Jackson Follmann and Hélio Neto; journalist Rafael Valmorbida; Bolivian flight attendant Ximena Suarez; and Bolivian flight technician Erwin Tumiri.

The Chapecoense players, along with team officials, journalists and others, were on their way to play Colombia’s Atlético Nacional in the final of the Copa Sudamericana when the aircraft crashed on its approach to Medellín airport, police said on Tuesday.

The Chapecoense football team pictured last week © EPA

The tragedy will mark a low point in a year in which Brazil is struggling to emerge from twin economic and political crises, with Latin America’s largest country mired in its worst ever recession and Congress impeaching leftist president Dilma Rousseff.

Her replacement as president, the centrist Michel Temer, rushed to give his condolences to the victims of the crash, in which a British Aerospace 146 short-haul aircraft, operated by Lamia, a Bolivian charter airline, came down in mountainous terrain, police said.

“This was extremely sad news and the only thing we can do, apart from pray for the deceased, is provide support through the federal government to the families of the victims,” Mr Temer said.

Former president Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, leader of the leftist opposition Workers’ Party (PT), also sent his condolences and urged Brazilian football to unite behind Chapecoense “at this moment of extreme sadness for all Brazilians”.

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s president, described the disaster as “a tragedy that plunges us into mourning” in a tweet on Tuesday.

In Europe, FC Barcelona, home of Neymar, the Brazilian soccer star, held a minute’s silence before training. “It’s impossible to believe,” Neymar said in an Instagram post. “Today the world cries but heaven rejoices in receiving such champions.”

Early rescue efforts were hampered by poor visibility and weather conditions, and the crash site could only be reached by land, according to news reports. 

The aircraft had declared an emergency around 10pm local time on Monday because of an electrical failure, aviation authorities said. But the head of Colombia’s civil aviation agency said authorities were not ruling out the possibility that the flight ran out of fuel, according to press reports. 

Chapecoense said on its Facebook page that it would not comment until the situation was clearer. “God be with our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests travelling with our delegation,” the post said.

Medical staff transfer crash survivor Alan Ruschel, one of the Chapecoense players, to hospital © EPA

Chapecoense team officials appeared in tears on television after the tragedy which came at a time when the club was having a dream run.

Not traditionally one of the big teams in Brazilian football, which is dominated by São Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Chapecoense made it to the country’s first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s. It reached the Copa Sudamericana final last week after defeating San Lorenzo of Argentina.

Ivan Tozzo, Chapecoense’s vice-president, told cable channel SporTV: “There are a lot of people crying in our city. We could never imagine this. Chapecoense is the biggest reason for joy here.”

Football clubs, players and fans from around the world took to social media to pay their respects to the victims and the club.

Manchester United, the English Premier League club that lost eight of its players in a 1958 air crash, said: “The thoughts of everyone at Manchester United are with Chapecoense Football Club and all those affected by the tragedy in Colombia.”

Via FT