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.
A chartered plane carrying 81 people, including top Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense, has crashed on its approach to Medellin, Colombia, officials say.
Reports say there are 25 dead and six survivors.
The chartered aircraft, flying from Bolivia, was carrying members of the Chapecoense soccer team, airport officials said.
The team was due to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana, against Colombian team Atletico Nacional.
The first leg of the final of the cup, South America’s second most important club competition, was scheduled for November 30, but has now been suspended.
Image source Getty Images
The South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) said it was suspending “all activities”.
Chapecoense issued a brief statement saying: “May God be with our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests travelling with our delegation.”
It said it would refrain from any further statements until it had assessed the extent of the crash.
Reports suggest that at least two members of the team – Alan Ruschel and Danilo – may have survived.
The sports network Telemundo Deportes tweeted that Alan Ruschel was in shock but conscious and talking, and asked to keep his wedding ring and to see his family.
The mayor of the nearby town of La Ceja confirmed that a 25-year-old player was among the survivors.
He said that 25 people were known to have died.
The team, from the southern city of Chapeco, was promoted to Brazil’s first division in 2014 and reached the final last week after a victory against Argentina’s San Lorenzo.
Reports say the British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, operated by Bolivian charter airline Lamia and carrying 72 passengers and nine crew, crashed in Cerro Gordo in the municipality of La Union shortly before midnight local time.
According to an airport press release, it was reporting an electrical fault to the control tower.
Medellin’s Mayor Federico Gutierrez described it as “a tragedy of huge proportions”.
The Jose Maria Cordova de Rionegro airport, which serves Medellin, posted on its Twitter account: “Confirmed, the aircraft licence number CP2933 was carrying the team @ChapecoenseReal. Apparently there are survivors.”
The airport later said in a statement that “all possible aid was being mobilized because six survivors are being reported”.
Poor weather has meant that the crash site, in a mountainous area, is only accessible by land.
However, there was no fire on impact, which has given rescuers hope that more survivors may be found.
CONMEBOL said in a statement that its president, Alejandro Dominguez, was on his way to Medellin.