According to new reports, the pilot of a charter plane that crashed in Colombia on November 28 had been warned before taking off from an airport in Bolivia that he might not have enough fuel.
Bolivia’s Deber newspaper said that an airport official raised the concern after checking the plane’s flight plan.
Seventy-one people died in the plane crash, including members of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team. Six people survived.
Bodies of the victims are due to be repatriated to Brazil.
Colombian authorities have said evidence is growing that the British-made BAE 146 Avro RJ85 aircraft ran out of fuel as it tried to land at Medellin airport. Experts say it was flying at, or very near, its maximum range.
In a leaked tape, pilot Miguel Quiroga can be heard warning of a “total electric failure” and “lack of fuel”.
On December 1, Bolivia’s aviation authority suspended the operating license of charter airline LaMia, which was part-owned by Miguel Quiroga, and two other aviation officials.
In the report carried in Deber, the Bolivian airport authority official at Santa Cruz airport said she raised concerns that the plane’s fuel load was only enough for the exact flight time.
The newspaper said she described how the airline’s clerk, who died in the crash, had told her the pilot was confident he had enough fuel. Despite her concerns, the flight plan was passed on to Bolivian air control.
Bolivian officials have not yet commented on the report.
An earlier report carried by Brazil’s O Globo newspaper suggested that because of a delayed departure, a refueling stop in Cobija – on the border between Brazil and Bolivia – was abandoned because the airport did not operate at night.
The pilot had the option to refuel in Bogota, it said, but headed straight to Medellin.
LaMia CEO Gustavo Vargas said on November 30 that the plane should have had enough fuel for about four and a half hours and any decision to refuel was at the pilot’s discretion.
In another development, the Colombian air traffic controller who received the distress call said she had received death threats following the crash.
“I did all that was humanly possible and technically necessary to preserve the lives of the passengers, but unfortunately my efforts weren’t enough,” Yaneth Molina wrote in a letter to her colleagues that was later released to the media.
On the approach to Medellin, the pilot had initially sought permission to land urgently but another plane was given priority because it had suffered a fuel leak. The LaMia flight was told to circle for seven minutes.
Meanwhile, coffins of the Brazilian victims are due to be flown out of Medellin on December 1.
Chapecoense had been due to play a soccer cup final against Atletico Nacional in Medellin.
In the squad’s home town of Chapeco, in southern Brazil, temporary structures have been set up in the football stadium for an open-air wake on December 3.
According to Colombian officials, the plane’s “black boxes”, which record flight details, will be sent to the UK to be opened by investigators.
Thousands of fans of Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team have held a vigil in the city of Chapeco for the victims of a plane crash in Colombia.
People walked from the town center to the stadium where they prayed and sang. A service was also held in Chapeco’s cathedral.
The team was flying to Colombia for the biggest match in their history when their plane went down shortly before landing in Medellin on November 28.
Six of the 77 people on board survived.
It is not clear what brought down the chartered aircraft, but some unconfirmed reports have suggested there was an electrical fault, while others say the plane was low on fuel. Both flight recorders have been recovered.
Brazil has declared three days of official mourning, while minute silences have been held at football grounds around the world.
Some 10,000 people – including family members of the players – gathered in Chapeco’s Arena Conda stadium on November 29, still stunned by the news from earlier in the day.
Fans wearing the club’s green and white colors sang the names of the players and shouted “champions”. Families of the players hugged each other on the pitch.
Brazilians doctors have already flown to Colombia in order to identify the bodies, and arrange for them to be brought home.
This could happen in the coming days, as the lack of a fire at the crash site has made retrieving and identifying the bodies of the 71 victims relatively easy, emergency workers say.
Chapecoense team was due to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana against the Colombian team Atletico Nacional on November 30.
Atletico Nacional has asked fans instead to come to the stadium dressed in white for a candlelit vigil. They have also offered to concede the game to ensure Chapecoense are declared the champions.
In other tributes, Brazilian first division soccer teams have offered to lend players to Chapecoense free of charge for the 2017 season, and asked the league to protect the club from relegation for the next three years.
Leading soccer players, from Barcelona stars Lionel Messi and Neymar, to Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, have also paid tribute to the players.
Alongside the soccer team, there were also 21 journalists on board the doomed flight – including well-known Brazilian commentator and former soccer player Mario Sergio Pontes de Paiva.
Three of the six survivors are soccer players:
Defender Alan Ruschel, who suffered spinal injuries
Defender Helio Zampier Neto, who has injuries to his skull and chest
Reserve goalkeeper Jakson Follman, who has had his right leg amputated and is said to be in a stable condition
Two crew members, Ximena Suarez and Erwin Tumiri, and journalist Rafael Valmorbida were also among the survivors.
Hailing from a small city of less than 200,000 inhabitants, Chapecoense soccer club had become an unlikely success stories in recent years, reaching Brazil’s Serie A in 2014 and beating more established teams.
Last week, Chapecoense became the first Brazilian team in three years to make it to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s second most important club competition, after beating Argentine side San Lorenzo.
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