Jet with a Brazil soccer team crashes in Colombia, 71 dead

Plane crashes in Colombia; only 5 survivors

The fairy tale season of the professional Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense ended in tragedy when their plane crashed in Colombia, killing all but six of the 77 people aboard.

As Colombian investigators tried Tuesday to pin down the cause and retrieve the bodies, Brazilian President Michel Temer declared three days of national mourning and his countrymen braced for a series of wrenching funerals.

Meanwhile, in a show of sportsmanship, the Colombian club Atlético Nacional that the Brazilians were flying down to play in South America's second biggest soccer tournament asked organizers to award the doomed team the title.

Founded in 1973 and based in the city of Chapeco (pop. 210,000), Chapecoense was little known outside of Brazil until Monday when their chartered plane crashed around 10 p.m. ET while on its way from Santa Cruz in Bolivia to Medellin's international airport.

Operated by LaMia, the plane was about 18 miles from its destination when for reasons still unclear it went down in a mountainous jungle area, killing 71 of the people on board, said Gen. Jose Acevedo, who heads the local police force.

Gen. Jose Acevedo, the head of police in the mountainous area of jungle where the jet came down, confirmed the deaths early Tuesday.

Poor weather conditions were reported at the time of the crash and rescue operations were suspended overnight due to heavy rain.

Photos: Plane with Brazilian soccer team crashes in Columbia

More: Past airline crashes with sports teams

It crashed at around 10 p.m. ET on Monday while on its way from Santa Cruz in Bolivia to Medellin's international airport, which is located at an elevation of 7,000 feet.

Alfredo Bocanegra, the head of Colombia's civil aviation agency, said that communication with Bolivian officials suggested the plane was experiencing electrical problems.

However, he added that investigators would have to evaluate reported testimony from a member of the cabin crew who said the plane had run out of fuel.

Watch the NBC report

Authorities said the six survivors included soccer players Alan Ruschel, Jackson Ragnar Follmann and Hélio Hermito Zampier, flight attendant Ximena Suarez, aircraft mechanic Erwin Tumiri, and journalist Rafael Valmorbida.

A doctor told Colombian TV that Ruschel was being operated on after suffering multiple injuries to his limbs and a lumbar spine fracture. The 27-year-old defender was later confirmed to be in an intensive care unit.

Suarez was listed in stable condition while Tumiri suffered non-life threatening injuries, hospital officials said. The other survivors' conditions were unclear.

Marcos Danilo Padilha, a 31-year-old goalkeeper with the club, was pulled from the wreckage alive but later succumbed to his injuries.

Officials initially put the number of survivors at five — but police told NBC News that Zampier was found alive some time following the other group.

Chapecoense had been scheduled to play the first of a two-game Copa Sudamericana final against Medellin-based Atlético Nacional on Wednesday.

"What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy," Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez said from the search and rescue command center.

Brazilian President Michel Temer declared three days of national mourning.

In addition to players and coaches, several journalists were among the 72 passengers and nine crew members on board the jet.

Local radio said the same aircraft transported Argentina's national squad for a match earlier this month in Brazil, and previously had transported Venezuela's national team.

The team aboard Flight LMI-2933 is from the small southern Brazilian city of Chapeco — which has a population of about 200,000.

It was in the middle of a fairy tale season.

Chapecoense joined Brazil's first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and last week qualified for the Copa Sudamericana finals — the equivalent of the UEFA Europa League tournament — after defeating Argentina's San Lorenzo squad.

They were considered underdogs against Atlético Nacional.

Their best-known player was Cleber Santana, a midfielder whose best years were spent in Spain with Athletico Madrid and Mallorca.

Coach Caio Junior was also experienced, having managed at some of Brazil's biggest clubs, Botafogo, Flamengo and Palmeiras among them.

Chapecoense were the 21st biggest club in Brazil in terms of revenue, bringing in $13.5 million in 2015, according to an annual rich list compiled by the Itau BBA bank.

They were currently 9th in the 20-team league with one game of the season to go.

The crash evoked memories of Munich air disaster in 1958, which killed 23 people including eight Manchester United players, journalists and traveling officials.

KGW


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