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Plane Carrying Brazilian Soccer Team Crashes In Colombia

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The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense that was on its way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional.  AP The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense that was on its way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional. AP
BOGOTA, Colombia -

A chartered plane carrying a Brazilian first division soccer team crashed outside Medellin while on its way to the finals of a regional tournament, killing 76 people, Colombian officials said Tuesday. Six people initially survived, but one of them later died in a hospital.

The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, operated by a charter airline named LaMia, declared an emergency at 10 p.m. Monday (0300 GMT) because of an electrical failure, aviation authorities said. As CBSN’s Josh Elliot reports, the plane crashed not long after that, just five minutes from its destination.

The team, from southern Brazil and which had started its journey in Sao Paulo, was scheduled to play Wednesday in the first of a two-game Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional of Medellin.

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

An official 2016 photo from the Associação Chapecoense de Futebol’s Facebook page shows the entire first-division Brazilian soccer team. ASSOCIAÇÃO CHAPECOENSE DE FUTEBOL/FACEBOOK

The club said in a brief statement on its Facebook page that “may God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests traveling with our delegation.”

One of the players, goalkeeper Danilo, who was among those initially rescued and brought alive to a hospital, later died of his injuries, a spokesman for the Brazilian soccer club confirmed. Team spokesman Andrei Copetti announced the death to The Associated Press, adding that another goalkeeper was reported to be among the four remaining survivors. 

Brazil as well as South America’s soccer federation extended its condolences to the entire Chapecoense community and said its president, Luis Dominguez, was on his way to Medellin. All soccer activities were suspended until further notice, the organization said in a statement.

Elkin Ospina, mayor of La Ceja, near where the crash took place, said rescuers working through the night had been heartened after pulling three passengers alive from the wreckage.

Authorities and rescuers were immediately activated but an air force helicopter had to turn back because of low visibility. Heavy rainfall complicated the nighttime search, and authorities urged journalists to stay off the roads so ambulances and other rescuers could reach the site.

Brazilian soccer player Alan Luciano Ruschel of Chapecoense soccer club receives medical attention after a plane crash in Antioquia, central Colombia, Nov. 29, 2016. REUTERS

Images broadcast on local television showed three male passengers arriving to a local hospital in ambulances on stretchers and covered in blankets connected to an IV. All were apparently alive and one of them was reportedly a Chapecoense defender named Alan Ruschel. Part of the plane’s heavily damaged fuselage could also be seen in images broadcast by Colombian media.

The aircraft, which had departed from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was transporting the Chapecoense soccer team to Medellin’s Jose Maria Cordova airport.

Bolivian authorities said the plane had arrived earlier in the day from the city of Cochabamba and picked up the Brazilian team at Santa Cruz’s Viru Viru airport. They said the plane underwent an inspection before departing for Colombia and reported no problems. 

The airline had been used in the past to shuttle several Bolivian teams as well as Medellin’s Atletico Nacional for matches around South America. 

The plane was carrying 72 passengers and nine crew members, aviation authorities said in a statement. 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.

British Aerospace, which is now known as BAE Systems, says that the first 146-model plane took off in 1981 and that just under 400 - including the successor Avro RJ - were built in total in the U.K. through 2003. It says around 220 of are still in service in a variety of roles, including aerial firefighting and overnight freight services.

A video published on the team’s Facebook page showed the team readying for the flight earlier Monday in Sao Paulo’s Guarulhos international airport.

The team, from the small city of Chapeco, was in the middle of a fairy tale season. It joined Brazil’s first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it last week to the Copa Sudamericana finals - the equivalent of the UEFA Europa League tournament - after defeating two of Argentina’s fiercest squads, San Lorenzo and Independiente, as well as Colombia’s Junior.

The team is so modest that its 22,000-seat arena was ruled by tournament organizers too small to host the final match, which was instead moved to a stadium 300 miles to the north in the city of Curitiba.

“Chapecoense was the biggest source of happiness in the town,” the club’s vice-president, Ivan Tozzo, told Brazil’s SporTV. “Many in the town are crying.”

Soccer stars from across the globe tweeted condolences Tuesday morning to victims of the tragedy.

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