Plane carrying Brazilian soccer club crashes in Colombia

A plane carrying a Brazilian soccer team heading for the biggest game in its history crashed overnight in Colombia, killing 71 people. The death toll was lowered after officials discovered there were fewer people on the plane.

Dozens killed as rain hampers recovery efforts in mountainous region outside Medellin

Plane wreckage and debris strewn across ground following crash that killed 76 in Colombia 0:59

A plane carrying a Brazilian soccer team heading for the biggest game in its history crashed overnight in Colombia, killing 71 people.

Earlier in the day, officials reported a higher death toll. Colombian aviation authorities later lowered the figure to 71 from 75, saying four fewer people were aboard the aircraft than originally stated, The Associated Press reported. 

Colombia's civil aviation agency said early Tuesday six people survived the crash, up from initial reports of only five. The death toll varied overnight because of confusion amid the emergency.

Colombian authorities said early Tuesday that three players with Chapecoense, a team from Brazil's top league, were among the survivors. Two crew members and a reporter also survived. 

What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy.— Medellin  Mayor Federico   Gutierrez

The charter plane was carrying 68 passengers and nine crew when it left Viru Viru airport in Santa Cruz. It crashed on approach to José Maria Cordova International Airport in Rionegro, about 24 kilometres from the city of Medellin.

The plane went down in a mountainous rural area outside Medellin, where rugged terrain and heavy rains hampered rescue operations. News showed photos of twisted wreckage and hospital staff awaiting patients.

Chapecoense players celebrate at the end of a match against Argentina's San Lorenzo in Chapeco, Brazil, last week. (Andre Penner/Associated Press)

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

The team was en route to face Atletico Nacional of Medellin in the first leg of Wednesday's Sudamericana final, South America's equivalent of the Europa League. The small club from Chapeco had reached its first final of a major South American club competition. 

According to a statement from Colombia's civil aviation agency, the survivors are:

  1. Helio Hermito Zampier (Chapecoense defender).
  2. Alan Luciano Ruschel (Chapecoense defender).
  3. Jackson Ragnar Follman (Chapecoense goalkeeper).
  4. Ximena Suarez (flight attendant).
  5. Erwin Tumiri (flight technician).
  6. Rafael Hensel (journalist).

Doctors have had to amputate the right leg of Follman, the goalkeeper, a statement from the hospital says. Follman is in the intensive care unit and his family wanted to make the news of his amputation public.

One team member, goalkeeper Marcos Danilo Padilha, was rescued from the crash site but died later in hospital, according to a team spokesman. 

On Twitter, the soccer club posted a short video of the team singing and chanting happily in a locker-room, apparently celebrating a recent win. 

"Let this be the last image of our warriors," the club said in Portuguese. 

The head of Colombia's civil aviation agency said authorities aren't ruling out the possibility that the flight ran out of fuel before crashing. For now, the main line of investigation is a possible aircraft electrical failure.

Alfredo Bocanegra, speaking from the rescue command centre, said communication with Bolivian aviation officials suggested the plane had experienced electrical problems.

At the same time, investigators will have to evaluate reported testimony from a flight attendant who said the plane ran out of fuel.

First responders try to save some aboard plane carrying Brazilian soccer team, after 76 killed in crash in Colombia 0:51

Colombia's civil aviation agency also said it had located the two flight recorders from the airplane. The agency said on Twitter the recorders were in "perfect condition."

Heavy rain

Flight tracking service Flightradar24 said on Twitter the last tracking signal from Flight 2933 had been received when it was at 4,724 metres about 30 kilometres from its destination, which sits at an altitude of 2,134 metres.

The Avro RJ85 was produced by a company that is now part of U.K.'s BAE Systems.

The flight crashed around 10:15 p.m. local time. Heavy rain first hampered and then halted rescue operations. Officials told local media that bodies would be removed at first light.

Brazilian news organizations reported 21 journalists were among those on board to cover the match.

The crash evoked memories of a Munich air disaster in 1958 that killed 23 people, including eight Manchester United players, journalists and travelling officials.

Chapecoense qualified for the biggest game in its history after overcoming Argentine club San Lorenzo in the semifinal on away goals following a 1-1 draw in Buenos Aires and a 0-0 draw at home.

Chapecoense was very much the underdog for the match against a club going for a rare double after winning the Copa Libertadores in July.

Chapecoense was the 21st biggest club in Brazil in terms of revenue, bringing in 46 million reals ($18.1 million Cdn) in 2015, according to an annual list compiled by Brazilian bank Itau BBA.

Outpouring of grief

The club has built its success on a frugal spending policy that eschewed big-money signings, and instead concentrated on blending young talent and experienced journeymen.

The team's most high-profile player — Cleber Santana, a midfielder whose best years were spent in Spain with Athletico Madrid and Mallorca — was among the dead. Coach Caio Junior, who managed at some of Brazil's biggest clubs including Botafogo, Flamengo and Palmeiras, also died.

The crash prompted an outpouring of solidarity and grief on social media from the soccer community, with Brazilian top-flight teams Flamengo and Santo tweeting messages of support.

Brazilian soccer legend Pele said on Twitter that the crash resulted in "a tragic loss."

Brazilian professional footballer Neymar also shared his condolences.

English soccer star Wayne Rooney tweeted that his thoughts and condolences are with the families of those affected. David Beckham, former captain of the English national team, also expressed condolences.

The South American football federation suspended all games and other activities following the crash.  

With files from The Associated Press and CBC News