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ESPN FC  By ESPN staff

Brazilian club Chapecoense's plane crashes, leaving 71 dead, six survivors

ESPN's Rubens Pozzi joined the FC show to explain how much the Chapecoense team meant to Brazilian football.
ESPN Brazil's Rubens Pozzi expresses just how big a loss Chapecoense is to the world of football.

A chartered plane carrying Chapecoense to the biggest match in the Brazilian football club's history crashed into a Colombian hillside and broke into pieces, killing 71 people and leaving six survivors.

Colombia's official emergency management agency UNGRD had earlier announced that 75 had died, but following rescue efforts the group revised the total number of people who had been on board from 81 to 77, which also lowered the death toll by four.

"The balance is the following: six are injured and 71 died for a total of 77 people," UNGRD director Carlos Ivan Marquez said on Tuesday. "We made an adjustment of the count because four people did not make the trip at the last minute."

The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, operated by a charter airline named LaMia, declared an emergency at 10 p.m. local time on Monday because of an electrical failure, aviation authorities said.

Authorities responded to the plane crash at a hill in La Union in the region of Antioquia, according to the Jose Maria Cordova airport. The municipality is roughly 22 miles from the airport.

The charter aircraft, which took off from Bolivia, was carrying 68 passengers and nine crew members, including Chapecoense, which was expected to play in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional on Wednesday in Medellin.

Jose Gerardo Acevedo, a police colonel in Anahtioquia, confirmed to reporters that emergency personnel initially found six survivors, one of whom, player Marcos Danilo Padilha, later died.

Hours later, Colombia's emergency management organisation confirmed that another survivor had been pulled from the fuselage.

Among the survivors are Chapecoense football players Jackson Follman, Alan Ruschel and Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, according to Colombia's National Air Guard.

Ruschel was in the most serious condition and was later transported to another facility to undergo surgery for a spinal fracture. Neto also suffered multiple trauma injuries, hospital officials said.

Follmann had his right leg amputated. Doctors at the hospital where he was being treated said the goalkeeper is in an intensive care unit but in stable condition.

 A Bolivian flight attendant, Ximena Suarez and a flight crew member, Erwin Tumiri, were in stable condition after being taken to a regional hospital for treatment, along with journalist Rafael Henzel Valmorbida, who was recovering from surgery.

Danilo also initially survived the crash, according to UNGRD, but he died while being attended to by paramedics.

Officials said that Luciano Buligon, Gelson Luiz Merisio, Plinio de Nes Filho and Ivan Carlos Agnoletto -- none of whom were players -- didn't board the flight, but were listed on the plane's passenger list.

The emergency management director said that the president of Colombia, Juan Manuel Santos, had been briefed and had activated the country's emergency management system to aid in the rescue process.

Rescuers working through the night were initially heartened after pulling three passengers alive from the wreckage. But as the hours passed, heavy rainfall and low visibility grounded helicopters and slowed efforts to reach the crash site.

At daybreak, dozens of bodies scattered across a muddy mountainside were collected into white bags. They were loaded onto several Black Hawk helicopters that had to perform a tricky maneuver to land on the crest of the Andes mountains.

The plane's fuselage appeared to have broken into two upon hitting the mountain top, with the nose facing downward into a steep valley.

Chapecoense's charter aircraft crashed into a Colombian hillside.

CONMEBOL, South American football's governing body, said the Copa Sudamericana final and all federation activities have been suspended until further notice. 

The Copa Sudamericana is South America's secondary international club competition, below the Copa Libertadores, involving teams from across the continent. The final is played across two legs, with each team hosting one leg at their home stadium.

As the depth of what is Colombia's deadliest air tragedy in two decades sank in, sportsmanship prevailed and Atletico Nacional asked that the title be given to their up-and-coming rival, whose fairytale run had electrified Brazil.

The club, from the small city of Chapeco, were in the middle of an unprecedented season. They joined Brazil's top flight in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it last week to the Copa Sudamericana final after defeating two of Argentina's fiercest teams, San Lorenzo and Independiente, as well as Colombia's Junior.

Chapeco are so modest a club that their 22,000-seat arena was ruled by Copa Sudamericana organisers to be too small to host their home leg of the final, which was instead moved to a stadium 300 miles to the north in the city of Curitiba.

"Chapecoense was the biggest source of happiness in the town," the club's vice president, Ivan Tozzo, told Brazil's SporTV. "Many in the town are crying."

Among the notable players who died, Cleber Santana played for Spanish club Atletico Madrid for three seasons from 2007-2010. Matheus Biteco was on loan from German club Hoffenheim.

Mario Sergio, a commentator for Fox Sports, was a former Brazil international in the 1980s.

In a statement on their Facebook page, Chapecoense said: "May God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests traveling with our delegation."

The team said it would refrain from any further statements until it had fully evaluated the extent of the crash.

Chapecoense player Alejandro Martinuccio, who was not on the flight because he was ruled out with an injury, was quoted by Spanish outlet Marca as telling Radio La Red: "We are all at the club, we cannot believe it.

"We are waiting on news, I have survived as I was injured. I feel a deep sadness for my teammates. The only thing I can say is to pray for them."

The Brazilian Football Confederation, who declared seven days of mourning after the tragedy, added in a statement: "Our solidarity and prayers are with the passengers and crew."

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

International players and teams alike, including Barcelona stars Neymar and Lionel Messi, sent messages of condolence to the families of the victims.

Chapecoense made it through to the Copa Sudamericana final after defeating San Lorenzo six days ago.

The aircraft was owned by LaMia, a company that started off as a regional operator in Venezuela but later relocated to Bolivia, where it was granted certification to operate last January.

Despite such apparently limited experience, the airline has a close relationship with several premier South American squads.

Earlier this month, the plane involved in the crash transported Barcelona forward Lionel Messi and the Argentina team from Brazil to Colombia between World Cup qualifier matches.

The airliner also previously transported the national squads of Brazil, Bolivia and Venezuela over the last three months, according to a log of recent activity provided by Flightradar24.com.

Before being taken offline, LaMia's website said it operated three 146 Avro short-haul jets made by British Aerospace and with a maximum range of around 2,965 kilometres (1,600 nautical miles) -- about the same as the distance between Santa Cruz and Medellin, the route it was flying when it went down.

"By reducing payload the plane could fly further," said Richard Aboulafia, an aviation analyst at consultant Teal Group in Fairfax, Virginia. "Still, it does appear to have been flying at the outer end of its range capability."

Colombia's aviation authority said initial reports suggest the aircraft was suffering electrical problems although investigators were also looking into an account from one of the survivors that the plane ran out of fuel about five minutes from its expected landing at Jose Maria Cordova airport outside Medellin.

"We can't rule out anything. The investigation is ongoing and we're going to await the results," said Gustavo Vargas, a retired Bolivian air force general who is president of the airline.

Bolivia's civil aviation agency said the aircraft picked up the Brazilian team in Santa Cruz, where players had arrived earlier in the day on a commercial flight from Sao Paulo.

Spokesman Cesar Torrico said the plane underwent an inspection before departing for Colombia and reported no problems.

British Aerospace, which is now known as BAE Systems, says that the first 146-model plane took off in 1981 and that fewer than 400 were built in the U.K. through 2003. Around 220 of are still in service in a variety of roles, including aerial firefighting and overnight freight services. The airplane that crashed was built in 1999, Vargas said.

A video published on the team's Facebook page showed the team readying for its flight Monday in Sao Paulo's Guarulhos international airport. Photos of team members in the cockpit and posing in front of the plane ahead of departure quickly spread across social media.

"This morning I said goodbye to them and they told me they were going after the dream, turning that dream into reality," Chapecoense board member Plinio De Nes told Brazil's TV Globo. "The dream was over early this morning."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

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