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LA UNION, Colombia/CHAPECO, Brazil (Reuters) – The plane that crashed in Colombia virtually wiping out an entire Brazilian soccer team was running out of fuel, had no electrical power, and was preparing for an emergency landing, according to the pilot’s final words.
The disaster on Monday night killed 71 people and sent shock waves round the global soccer world.
Only six on board the LAMIA Bolivia charter flight survived, including three of the Chapecoense soccer squad en route to the biggest game in their history: the Copa Sudamericana final.
“Miss, LAMIA 933 is in total failure, total electrical failure, without fuel,” Bolivian pilot Miguel Quiroga was heard telling the control tower operator at Medellin’s airport on the crackly audio played by Colombian media.
“Fuel emergency, Miss,” he added, requesting urgent permission to land.
That matched the account from the co-pilot of an Avianca plane flying close by at the time. He said he overheard the LAMIA plane reporting it was out of fuel and had to land.
“Mayday mayday … Help us get to the runway … Help, help,” Juan Sebastian Upegui described the LAMIA pilot as saying in an audio message also played by local media.
“Then it ended … We all started to cry.”
The BAe 146, made by BAE Systems Plc, slammed into a mountainside next to La Union town outside Medellin. Besides the three players, a journalist and two crew members survived.
One survivor, Bolivian flight technician Erwin Tumiri, said he only saved himself by strict adherence to security procedure, while others panicked.
“Many passengers got up from their seats and started yelling,” he told Colombia’s Radio Caracol.
“I put the bag between my legs and went into the fetal position as recommended.”
Bolivian flight attendant Ximena Suarez, another survivor, said the lights went out less than a minute before the plane slammed into the mountain, according to Colombian officials in Medellin.
Of the players, goalkeeper Jackson Follmann was recovering from the amputation of his right leg, doctors said.
Another player, defender Helio Neto, remained in intensive care with severe trauma to his skull, thorax and lungs.
Fellow defender Alan Ruschel had spinal surgery.
Suarez and Tumiri were shaken and bruised but not in critical condition, medical staff said, while journalist Rafael Valmorbida was in intensive care for multiple rib fractures that partly collapsed a lung.
In Medellin and Chapeco, fans held homage to the team.
Dressed in white and chanting “we will never forget, this cup goes to heaven” the Atletico Nacional stadium in Medellin erupted in cheers, while others cried and white doves flew overhead. The team had been due to play Chapecoense in the regional final.