Brazil team honored as experts study possible fuel problem



Associated Press

Simultaneous tear-filled tributes were held at packed stadiums in Colombia and Brazil for the victims of this week's air tragedy that claimed 71 lives when a chartered plane crashed while ferrying a scrappy, small-town soccer team to the finals of a prestigious South American tournament.

Rescue workers search for survivors at he wreckage of a chartered airplane that crashed in La Union, a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia.

Source: Associated Press

The tributes took place last night as crash investigators aided by dramatic cockpit recordings were studying why the British-built jet apparently ran out of fuel before slamming into a muddy mountainside just a few miles from Medellin's international airport.

In the sometimes chaotic exchange with the air traffic tower, the pilot jet requested permission to land because of "fuel problems" without making a formal distress call. A female controller explained another plane that had been diverted with mechanical problems of its own was already approaching the runway and had priority, instructing the pilot to wait seven minutes.

Supporters of Brazil's Chapecoense soccer team gather for a memorial to remember the players who died in a plane crash in Colombia, at Arena Condado stadium in Chapeco, Brazil, Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2016. Authorities were working to finish identifying the bodies before repatriating them to Brazil. (AP Photo/Andre Penner)

Supporters of Brazil's Chapecoense soccer team gather for a memorial to remember the players who died in a plane crash in Colombia, at Arena Condado stadium in Chapeco, Brazil.

Source: 1 NEWS

As the jetliner circled in a holding pattern, the pilot grew more desperate. "Complete electrical failure, without fuel," he said in the tense final moments before the plane set off on a four-minute death spiral.

By then the controller had gauged the seriousness of the situation and told the other plane to abandon its approach to make way for the charter jet. It was too late. Just before going silent, the pilot said he was flying at an altitude of 9,000 feet and made a final plea to land: "Vectors, senorita. Landing vectors."

The recording, obtained by Colombian media, appeared to confirm the accounts of a surviving flight attendant and a pilot flying nearby who overheard the frantic exchange. These, along with the lack of an explosion upon impact, pointed to a rare case of fuel burnout as a cause of the crash of the jetliner, a BAE 146 Avro RJ85 that experts said was at its maximum range on the flight from Santa Cruz, Bolivia.

British aviation experts will investigate the black box and flight data recorder. The Air Accidents Investigation Branch said yesterday that the key instruments offering clues to what happened to the plane will be brought to Britain in the coming days for study.

While the experts worked, thousands of white-clad supporters of Medellin's Atletico Nacional club jammed the stands of the 40,000-seat stadium where the team had been scheduled to play a Copa Sudamericana finals match against Brazil's ill-fated Chapecoense. With the words "Eternal Champions" blazing on a big screen, the normally combative Atletico fans put sportsmanship first and paid tribute to the rival team, which they've urged be named the champion.

The names of each of the 71 victims of Monday night's crash was read aloud while a military band played taps and Black Hawk helicopters that helped in the rescue operations that pulled six people alive from the wreckage flew overhead. In the stands, mourners stood for a minute of silence holding candles and signs reading "We're all Chapeconese" and "Soccer has no borders."

The emotional high point of the tribute in Medellin was an address by Brazilian Foreign Minister Jose Serra, who traveled to the city along with a military cargo plane to help repatriate the bodies of the mostly Brazilian victims. He highlighted the fact that both teams shared the same green and white jersey colors, a sign to him of unity amid tragedy.

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