Players and officials from one of Brazil’s leading football clubs were among the dead on Tuesday after their chartered plane crashed in Colombia on the way to the Copa Sudamericana final.
The jet carrying the Chapecoense team, along with club officials and journalists, came down late at night, officials from the Jose Maria Cordova International Airport in Medellin announced.
There were 72 passengers and nine crew on board the charter plane, which was carrying the team to Medellin for their match against Atletico Nacional. The first leg of the final in the prestigious South American club competition had been due to be played on Wednesday evening.
Colombia’s civil aviation authority – Aeronautica Civil – stated in a Twitter update: “Aerocivil confirms six survivors, two crew members, three players and one journalist.”
A conflicting report from newspaper El Colombiano said local police in the Valle de Aburra region had confirmed 76 deaths from 81 on board.
Aeronautica Civil said in a statement that the plane had been carrying “22 footballers, 28 companions and technical staff, 22 journalists and nine crew members”.
The plane had taken off from Santa Cruz de la Sierra in Bolivia and declared an emergency due to power failure before losing contact with the control tower, the airport said in a separate statement.
Colombia has been hit by heavy storms which hampered rescue efforts.
“The site of the accident is only accessible by land due to climatic conditions and low visibility,” an early statement from the airport said. “The Colombian Air Force deployed a search and rescue helicopter which had to cancel the mission due to the adverse conditions.”
The crash site was eventually reached by land by emergency services, with pictures in the Colombian media showing the wreckage.
Chapecoense had reached the finals of the Copa Sudamericana by beating Argentina’s San Lorenzo over two legs in the semi-finals, which concluded last week.
Atletico Nacional said the club “deeply regret and sympathise” with Chapecoense.
The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) said in a statement: “The CONMEBOL family greatly regrets what happened. All activities of the confederation are suspended until further notice. President Alejandro Dominguez is on his way to Medellin.”
A statement from Chapecoense said the club were waiting for full details of the accident.
The statement noted that different information was emerging through various sources, and said: “Chapecoense Football Club, through its vice-president Ivan Tozzo, reserves the right to wait for the official announcement from the Colombian air authority, in order to issue any official note about the accident.
“God be with our athletes, management, journalists and other guests who are with the delegation.”
In a further statement, Aeronautica Civil named survivors as footballers Alan Luciano Ruschel, Jackson Ragnar Follmann and Marcos Danilo Padilha, crew members Ximena Suarez and Erwin Timuri and journalist Rafael Hensel.
It said all were taken to hospital.
The crash reportedly occurred at around 10pm local time on Monday (3am GMT Tuesday).
Brazil’s president Michel Temer declared three days of mourning, and said: “In this sad hour as tragedy falls on dozens of Brazilian families, I express my solidarity.
“We are doing all we can to help family and give all possible assistance.
“The government will do all it can to alleviate the pain of friends and family in sport and national journalism.”
— TEAMtalk (@TEAMtalk) November 29, 2016
Pictures of the team as they prepared for take-off showed players in high spirits, with staff wearing club colours of green and white ready for the flight.
On the club’s Facebook page, a video was posted of buoyant players and officials at check-in.
Authorities in Medellin dispatched emergency teams to the scene of the crash.
A statement from the Medellin mayor’s office said: “The mayor of Medellin, Federico Gutierrez Zuluaga, regrets the tragedy that occurred on the night of Monday, November 28, when the aircraft from Bolivia of the company Lamia with registration LMI 2933 RJ 80 crashed in El Cerro El Gordo, near the municipality of La Union, Antioquia with 72 passengers and nine crew on board, members of the Chapecoense team in Brazil.
“Once the air accident was reported, emergency care protocols were activated and fire and ambulance units from the Medellin hospital network were sent to the scene to support the search and rescue efforts of the victims.
“What has happened tonight is a true tragedy. We are sorry for this great loss of human life and express our solidarity with the families, friends and fans of the Chapecoense team.”
Marking the darkest day in the club’s 43-year history, Chapecoense changed the colours of their green and white club badge to black and white on social media accounts.
The Brazilian football federation (CBF) announced the second leg of the Copa do Brasil final between Gremio and Atletico Mineiro, scheduled for Wednesday, would be postponed.
Air travel is an essential and routine part of life for many modern football clubs, and Chapecoense are not the first to have suffered such a tragedy.
The Munich air disaster of 1958 resulted in 23 deaths, as Manchester United returned from a European Cup match in Belgrade, stopping in West Germany to refuel before their plane skidded on slush on the runway when attempting to take off. England players Tommy Taylor and Duncan Edwards were among the fatalities.
Others to have suffered major losses include Italian club Torino, whose first team perished in a 1949 crash in Turin. The Zambia national team suffered the same fate in 1993 when their aircraft crashed into the sea off Gabon.
Peruvian club Alianza Lima were travelling back from a league match when their flight ended in tragedy in December 1987, the first-team squad and coaching staff all lost when their plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean when attempting to land in Lima.