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Colombia probes plane crash that wiped out football team

Rescue teams work in the recovery of the bodies of victims of the LAMIA airlines charter that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, Colombia, on November 29, 2016 carrying members of the Brazilian football team Chapecoense Real © STR/AFP / Raul ARBOLEDA

MEDDELIN, Colombia, Nov 29 – Colombia was investigating Wednesday what made a charter plane crash into the country’s northwestern mountains, killing 71 people including most of a Brazilian football team and 20 journalists.

Fans were in tears in the team’s hometown of Chapeco, and their opponents mourned in the Colombian city of Medellin, where the doomed flight crashed Monday.

Officials and media reports in Brazil and Colombia speculated that the plane might have run out of fuel or suffered a technical fault.

The Brazilian club Chapecoense Real was on the way to crowning a fairytale year in the Copa Sudamericana final against Medellin side Atletico Nacional.

The LAMIA airlines charter declared an emergency at 0300 GMT after reporting it had suffered “electrical failures” © AFP / Raul Arboleda

The crash cut short the unsung club’s dream, sending the football world into mourning.

Announcing the crash on Monday night, the aviation authority said the plane had reported electrical problems.

But a Colombian military source told AFP: “It is very suspicious that despite the impact there was no explosion. That reinforces the theory of the lack of fuel.”

The plane was scheduled to make a refueling stop in Bogota, but skipped the Colombian capital and headed straight for Medellin, reported Bolivian newspaper Pagina Siete, citing a representative of the airline.

“The pilot was the one who made the decision,” Gustavo Vargas of Bolivian charter company LAMIA told the newspaper.

“He thought the fuel would last.”

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– Black boxes –

Map showing the flightpath of the LAMIA airlines plane that crashed late Monday with 81 people on board. © AFP / Vincent LEFAI, Jean Michel CORNU

Colombia’s civil aviation authority said it hoped to establish the cause of Monday night’s crash “as soon as possible.”

British and Brazilian investigators headed to Colombia to help with the probe, authorities said.

Investigators have recovered the black boxes from the British Aerospace 146 plane.

They were undamaged and “will reveal everything,” said Colombian Transport Minister Jorge Eduardo Rojas.

Bolivian civil aviation chief Cesar Varela told reporters “the crew had their licenses in order. Everything was in order.”

– Miracle survivors –

There were 72 passengers and nine crew on board the LAMIA plane when it crashed in Colombia © AFP / Raul Arboleda

Six people miraculously survived the crash. Three of the survivors were footballers, but goalkeeper Jakson Follmann had his right leg amputated, said the hospital treating him.

Two flight crew and a journalist following Chapecoense also survived.

Four people missed the flight, including a journalist and two politicians.

“It’s one of those things in life. Only God knows why I ended up staying behind,” said Luciano Buligon, the mayor of Chapeco in southern Brazil.

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He arrived on Wednesday in Medellin to oversee the return of the bodies.

– Identifying bodies –

Brazil’s Chapecoense Real players were on the plane and were to have played in the Copa Sudamericana finals on Wednesday against Atletico Nacional de Colombia © AFP/File / Nelson Almeida

A Brazilian defense ministry spokesman said 20 bodies had been identified by Wednesday morning. He said the authorities were hoping to finish by the end of the day.

The Brazilian air force will then fly them home in two Hercules cargo planes.

Victims’ families will not travel to Colombia because they are in a “delicate” emotional state, Brazil’s ambassador Julio Glinternick told Colombian news channel RCN.

The director of the funeral home preparing the bodies, Jorge Escobar, told AFP he expected them to be sent home Friday.

– Brazilian city ‘devastated’ –

Pope Francis said in a statement he was “deeply grieved” by the crash.

Brazil ordered three days of national mourning for the team, which had emerged from nowhere over the past two years to take South American football by storm.

Fans in Chapeco, population 200,000, were in shock.

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“Chapeco is not a big city. We would meet (the players) in the street,” said teacher Aline Fonseca, 21.

“It’s hard to keep going,” she said. “The city is devastated.”

Fans were to mass later Wednesday in the Chapecoense stadium, which has been draped in black ribbons.

Other Brazilian clubs have offered the club players so it can continue competing. Special funds have also been set up.

In Medellin, Atletico Nacional called for a memorial service at the time the first-leg final match was to have been played.

It asked fans to come to the stadium dressed in white with candles.

The Spanish football league said next Saturday’s blockbuster clash between Barcelona and Real Madrid will be preceded by a minute’s silence for the crash victims.

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