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Doomed Jet Carrying Brazilian Team Reportedly Ran Out of Fuel


Rescue workers on Tuesday combed through the wreckage of a jet carrying 77 people that crashed near Medellín, Colombia. Credit Fernando Vergara/Associated Press

The pilot of a plane that crashed late Monday while flying members of a Brazilian soccer team to a competition in Colombia pleaded to make an immediate landing because the aircraft was out of fuel, according to a recording leaked to Colombian news outlets on Wednesday.

The audio, first posted by W Radio of Colombia, offers a grim narration of the final moments of the doomed flight, which carried 77 people, including the members of the Chapecoense soccer team from Chapecó, Brazil. And it added a new twist to the investigation of what might have caused the crash, originally thought to be electrical failure.

“We ask for permission to approach, we have a fuel problem,” cried a voice that the radio station identified as the pilot. He later says that the plane had a “fuel emergency.”

During the 12-minute recording, the pilot also says that the plane had experienced “total electrical failure” and repeatedly requests flight vectors, indications from the air traffic controller, on how to land. The controller tries to help but mentions other obstacles like another plane flying close by and fuel on the runway left from yet another aircraft.

“Nine thousand feet,” yells the pilot. “Vectors! Vectors!”

Shortly afterward, the plane crashed.

A spokesman from Colombia’s aviation agency said it could not confirm the authenticity of the recording. But he added that the agency was investigating whether the plane, which was operated by a Bolivian charter company called LaMia, did run out of fuel.

According to specifications from the plane’s manufacturer, BAE Systems, the Avro RJ85 jet has a range of about 1,600 nautical miles, close to the distance of the flight from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to Medellín, Colombia. Jetliners, however, rarely travel in straight lines to their destination, but rather along more indirect routes determined by their flight plan.

W Radio offered no details as to who provided the recording. Similar recordings, also said to be from the cockpit, were played on other Colombian radio stations on Wednesday.


Brazilian Soccer Team’s Tragic End to Historic Season

A deadly plane crash came just as fans across Brazil had been reveling in Chapecoense’s performance, helping to unite much of the country behind the team’s sudden emergence as a regional contender.

Photo by Nelson Almeida/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. Watch in Times Video »

Aviation experts also say it was unsafe to fly a plane without at least 30 minutes of fuel reserves, among other precautions.

The theory that the plane crashed without fuel was supported by rescue workers on the ground on Tuesday, who were surprised to see that there had been no explosion.

The main damage to the plane appeared to be from the impact, which caused the fuselage, engines and tail to be torn apart, they said. The American National Transportation Safety Board said that it would assist in the investigation.

The flight marked a tragic end to the rise of Chapecoense, which had come up the ranks from a scrappy industrial city in Brazil to become one of the country’s hottest teams.

The team was on its way for what would have been its biggest test yet, the finals of the Copa Sudamericana, one of South America’s most important tournaments.

At least 21 journalists were reported to be on the flight, too, including reporters from Fox Latin America and the Globo television network of Brazil. Six survivors were pulled from the wreckage, including three players, two crew members and a journalist.

There was no immediate response to an email to LaMia. The company’s website had been taken down, and its telephone had been disconnected on Wednesday.

Dr. Ana González, the medical director at Clínica Somer, the hospital outside Medellín where three of the survivors were being treated, said two of them, both members of the crew, were in stable condition.

Alan Ruschel, a defender for Chapecoense, was in critical condition, she added. Mr. Ruschel spent time before the flight posting selfies on social media networks with his teammates.

“Alan is the patient with the most serious injuries,” Dr. González said. “It is too soon to tell if he will be able to walk again, but we hope that in the future he will.”

Source: NYT > World

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