Football enthusiasts across the globe were left mourning after news went viral that a chartered plane conveying a Brazilian elite division club crashed near Medellin while on its way to the finals of a regional tournament, killing 75 people.
But for the unfortunate plane crash, thousands of the club fans would have taken to major streets of Brazil celebrating the anticipated victory of the club today.
“What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy,” Medellin mayor Federico Gutierrez said from the search and rescue command centre.
According to reports by Colombian officials, only six of the passengers survived the crash.
The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, operated by a charter airline named LaMia, was said to have declared an emergency and lost radar contact just before 10pm on Monday (0300 GMT) because of an electrical failure.
The aircraft, which had departed from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was transporting the Chapecoense team from southern Brazil for the first leg of a two-game Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional of Medellin, which was due to be played yesterday (Wednesday).
The club said in a brief statement on its Facebook page that “may God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests travelling with our delegation”.
South America’s football federation extended its condolences to the entire Chapecoense community and said its president, Alejandro Dominguez, was on his way to Medellin while all soccer activities were suspended until further notice.
Dozens of rescuers working through the night were initially heartened after pulling three passengers alive from the wreckage.
But as the hours passed, and heavy rainfall and low visibility grounded helicopters and complicated efforts to reach the mountainside crash site, the mood soured to the point that authorities had to freeze until dusk carrying out what was by then a body recovery operation.
Among the survivors was a Chapecoense defender named Alan Ruschel, who doctors said suffered spinal injuries. Two goalkeepers, Marcos Danilo and Jackson Follmann, as well as a member of the team’s delegation and a Bolivian flight attendant, also survived the crash. However Danilo died a short time later.
The plane was carrying 72 passengers and nine crew members, aviation authorities said in a statement.
Interestingly, Danilo who was pulled from the wreckage of the air disaster allegedly made a heartbreaking last telephone call to his wife moments before he died.
The 31-year-old was rushed for treatment after the crash, which claimed more than 70 lives, and spoke to his wife from his hospital bed – only to die from his injuries a short time later. Weeks earlier he had posted a picture of himself next to his wife who he described as “my love”.
Separate images show him posing for selfies with fellow footballer Alan Ruschel, 27, during the journey from Brazil with Ruschel, 27, telling fans: “We’re coming Colombia.”
Ruschel was pulled alive from the wreckage along with goalkeeper Jacson Follmann, defender Helio Hermito Zampier Neto and passengers Rafael Correa Gobbato and Ximena Suarez, officials said.
As at the time of filing this report, rescuers continued with the grim task of removing bodies from the crash site as it emerged the pilot circled in a desperate attempt to burn off fuel before attempting to land.