A plane carrying 72 passengers – including a top Brazilian football team forced to change flights at the last minute-has crashed in remote Colombian mountains amid reports just six have survived.
Brazilian side Chapecoense were on their way from Bolivia to Medellin International Airport in Colombia to play in the Copa Sudamerica final when the plane came down. The footballers had to change their flight and board the plane that crashed after Brazilian aviation authorities prevented them from taking a charter flight, it has been claimed.
Defender Alan Ruschel, 27, and goalkeepers Jakson Follmann and Danilo, are reported to be among just six survivors from the crash after being pulled alive from the wreckage.
The plane, which was carrying nine crew, crashed at about 10.15pm after suffering power failures while flying through the mountainous Antioquia Department.
A video published on the Chapecoense Facebook page showed team members readying for the flight earlier on Monday in Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos international airport.
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 Argentina’s San Lorenzo.
‘May God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests traveling with our delegation’ the club said in a brief statement on its Facebook page.
Ambulances ferrying survivors to hospital can only get to within 30 minutes walk of the spot where the plane has crashed near the town of La Unión, it has emerged. Rescuers on foot are having to stretcher survivors through fog which prevents them from seeing a few feet in front of them, local radio reported.
They are then put into lorries which drive them another 700 metres to the waiting ambulances.
Some of the lorries are getting stuck in mud which is making the rescue more difficult. Witnesses said they have seen five people rescued so far. Hypothermia is another concern for those who have survived, as it is only five degrees Celsius.
Nearby hospitals have been placed on ‘maximum alert’ and are preparing for injured passengers to be treated.
Hugo Botero Lopez, mayor of La Union, told Colombian newspaper El Tiempo: ‘There are firemen from La Union, Rionegro, El Carmen de Vibroal, La Ceja, there are more than 90 lifeguards, but it is not easy to get people who are alive.’ Medellin’s Mayor Federico Gutierrez said there could be survivors.
‘It’s a tragedy of huge proportions,’ Gutierrez told Blu Radio on his way to the site in a mountainous area outside the city where the chartered aircraft is believed to have crashed shortly before midnight local time.
Local media in Colombia are reporting that a male passenger has arrived in an ambulance to a hospital near Medellin. Blu Radio said the passenger arrived on a stretcher with an oxygen mask and covered in a blanket. He appeared to be alive.
‘Tonight it was reported that a plane coming from Viru Viru airport in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, which should have landed at Jose Maria Cordova, airport had gone off course,’ a Colombian rescue official, Mauricio Parodi, told reporters.
Rescue teams, from firefighters to disaster management officials, have been pressed into the search for survivors, added Parodi, the director of disaster managment for the province of Antioquia.
Poor weather conditions made the crash site accessible only by road, airport authorities at Medellin, where the plane was scheduled to land, said on social network Twitter.
Chapecoense were set to play Colombian team Atletico Nacional in the South American club tournament’s final on Wednesday, with the return fixture in Brazil on December 7. It was the first time the small club from Chapeco had ever reached the final of a major South American club competition but they were underdogs against a club going for a rare double after winning the Copa Libertadores in July.
Chapecoense were the 21st biggest club in Brazil in terms of revenue, bringing in 46 million reais ($13.5 million) in 2015, according to an annual rich list compiled by Brazilian bank Itau BBA. The South American soccer federation has cancelled all activities until further notice.
The CONMEBOL federation said in a statement that its president, Alejandro Dominguez, is on his way to Medellin. Atletico Nacional had said on Twitter: ‘National deeply regret and sympathise with @ChapecoenseReal for the accident which has happened and await information from authorities.’