In a tragic incident which has shocked the football world, a plane carrying a Brazilian team crashed in the mountains in Colombia, killing 71 people and miraculously leaving six survivors.
Football legends Pele and Maradona as well as current superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo led tributes to the players of Chapecoense Real, a humble team whose march to glory was cut abruptly short.
The team were flying to what was billed as the biggest match in their history – the final of the Copa Sudamericana.
Their opponents, Colombian team Atletico Nacional, have offered to concede the game to ensure Chapecoense are declared the champions.
“The pain is terrible. Just as we had made it, I will not say to the top, but to have national prominence, a tragedy like this happens,” club vice-president Ivan Tozzo told Globo SportTV.
Colombia’s civil aviation authority initially said 75 people were killed, but it later emerged that four people on the passenger manifest had not in fact boarded the plane — a club official, a journalist, the mayor of the team’s hometown and the city council president.”It’s one of those things in life. Only God knows why I ended up staying behind,” the mayor, Luciano Buligon, told Brazil’s TV Globo.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos called it a “sad tragedy,” and Brazil’s President Michel Temer declared three days of mourning.
In a joint statement, Brazilian first division football teams have offered to lend players to Chapecoense free of charge, and asked the league to protect the club from relegation for the next three years.
The dead also included 20 Brazilian journalists travelling to cover the match.
The charter plane, flown by Bolivian company LAMIA, departed from the Bolivian city of Santa Cruz and declared an emergency at around 10:00 pm Monday (0300 GMT Tuesday).
It reported “electrical failures” and crashed soon after near the city of Medellin, its destination, officials said.
Governor Luis Perez of Antioquia department, where the plane went down, said investigators had found its two black box recorders.
Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch said it was sending investigators along with representatives of the plane’s manufacturer BAE Systems to Colombia to help with investigations.
Scores of rescuers picked through the wreckage of the white fuselage, plastered over a remote hillside in northwestern Colombia.
The plane went down about 50 kilometers (30 miles) from Medellin, the country’s second city, in a remote mountain area called Cerro Gordo.