The pilot of the chartered plane carrying a Brazilian football team told air traffic controllers he had run out of fuel and desperately pleaded for permission to land before crashing into the Andes, according to a leaked recording of the final minutes of the doomed flight.
In the sometimes chaotic exchange with the air traffic tower, the pilot of the British-built jet could be heard repeatedly requesting authorisation to land because of "fuel problems."
A female controller explained another plane had been diverted with mechanical problems and had priority, instructing the pilot to wait seven minutes.
As the plane 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 that ended with it slamming into a mountainside Tuesday night.
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 Wednesday 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, point to a rare case of fuel running out as a cause of the crash of the jetliner, which experts said was flying at its maximum range.
For now, authorities are avoiding singling out any one cause of the crash, which killed all but six of the 77 people on board, including members of Brazil's Chapecoense football team traveling to Medellin for the Copa Sudamericana finals - the culmination of a fairy tale season that had electrified football-crazed Brazil.
A full investigation is expected to take months and will review everything from the 17-year-old aircraft's flight and maintenance history to the voice and instruments data in the black boxes recovered yesterday at the crash site on a muddy hillside.
The US National Transportation Safety Board was taking part in the investigation because the plane's engines were made by an American manufacturer.