Colombian aviation authorities said Monday that an airliner that crashed with a Brazilian soccer team aboard had run out of fuel before it could land. The Nov. 29 accident killed 71 people.
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A statement by the Civil Aeronautics agency said the conclusion was based on the plane's black boxes and other evidence. It said the evidence points to human error rather than technical problems or sabotage.
Experts had earlier suggested that fuel exhaustion was a likely cause of the crash that wiped out all but a few members of the Chapocoense soccer team, as well as team officials and journalists accompanying them to a championship playoff match in Medellin, Colombia.
The BAE 146 Avro RJ85 has a maximum range of 2,965 kilometres — just under the distance between Medellin and Santa Cruz, Bolivia, where the plane had taken off at almost full capacity.
Plane put in holding pattern
The plane was in the air for about four hours and 20 minutes when air traffic controllers in Medellin put it into a holding pattern because another flight had reported a suspected fuel leak and was given priority.
In a recording of a radio message from the pilot of the LaMia flight, he can be heard repeatedly requesting permission to land due to a lack of fuel and a "total electric failure."
A surviving flight attendant and a pilot flying nearby also overheard the frantic pleas from the doomed airliner.
In addition, there was no explosion upon impact, pointing to a scarcity of fuel.
'Everything involved human error'
The Colombian aviation agency concluded that errors by the pilot, the small Bolivia-based charter airline LaMia Corp., and Bolivian regulators led to the crash.
The plane crashed on a wooded hillside near Medellin because the pilot failed to refuel en route and did not report engine failures caused by the lack of fuel until it was too late, officials said.
"No technical factor was part of the accident; everything involved human error, added to a management factor in the company's administration and the management and organization of the flight plans by the authorities in Bolivia," Colombia's Secretary for Air Safety Colonel Freddy Bonilla told journalists.
Aviation authorities in Bolivia and the airline "accepted conditions for the flight presented in the flight plan that were unacceptable," Bonilla added.
Besides a lack of fuel, the plane was over its weight limit by nearly 400 kilograms and was not certified to fly at the altitude at which the journey took place, Bonilla said.
The preliminary conclusions of Colombia's investigation coincide with assertions by Bolivian authorities last week that LaMia and the plane's pilot were directly responsible for the accident.
Pilot Miguel Quiroga was also a co-owner of LaMia and was killed in the crash.