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Chapecoense air crash investigation continues; plane “ran out of fuel”

Photo Credit: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters
Photo Credit: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters
Photo Credit: Paulo Whitaker/Reuters

Tributes and Commemorations continue to pour in following the tragic air crash in Colombia on Monday night, in which only 6 of the 77 on-board survived. The Chapecoense football team, based in Southern Brazil, were travelling to play their away leg of the Final for the 2016 Copa Sudamericana in Medellín against Atlético Nacional. This fixture was a historical one for the team, having never reached the final before.

Following investigations, including recovery of leaked tape, purporting to an electrical failure and fuel shortage, in which the pilot was requesting and immediate landing. Civil aviation Chief Alfredo Bocanegra confirmed at news conference; “Having been able to do an inspection of all of the remains and parts of the plane, we can affirm clearly that the aircraft did not have fuel at the moment of impact.”

It is believed the plane itself, an Avro RJ85, was the only serviceable aircraft of the three RJ85’s at the airport of departure, in LaMia airlines’ fleet. It has also come to light that the distance between the Santa Cruz and Medellin airports, at 1605 nautical miles, was marginally greater than the recommended distance for a RJ85 to fly (at 1600 nautical miles). By the time of the crash itself, the plane had already completed a further 54 nautical miles while using an aeronautical practice of “flying a hold”, to remain in airspace but delay landing.

At the crash site, the aircraft was only 19 km (approx. 10 nautical miles) from José María Córdova International Airport’s runway 36.

Although no official distress call was made by the pilot, the Brazilian newspaper, O Globo, reported on the decision to not refuel on the border between Brazil and Bolivia. Due to delayed departure, the plan to refuel was abandoned because the airport did not operate at night. The pilot did have the option to refuel in Bogota, but chose to head directly to Medellin. The priority to land was already given to an earlier aircraft experiencing mechanical difficulty, forcing the pilot to continue making “hold” manoeuvres.

“The pilot was the one who took the decision,” Gustavo Vargas, a representative of Lamia, who operated the plane, said in Bolivian newspaper Pagina Siete. “He thought the fuel would last.”

Condolences have flooded in for the club, including a week-long mourning period in Brazil, however, the tragedy of the crash is only heightened by these revelations of the situation that flight 2933 found itself in, during the early hours of the morning over the Cerra Gordo, Northern Colombia.

In Chapeco, the Chapocoense home ground saw tens of thousands of fans and supports

pay tribute to their team, who lost 19 players in the incident. 20 journalists also lost their lives, along with all but two of the flight crew. Of the survivors, one journalist remains in critical condition while goalkeeper, Danilo, has had a leg amputated due to injuries.

A full investigation into the crash is expected to take several months to complete.