LONDON – The plane that crashed near Medellin, Colombia, is a short-haul aircraft that was used to land in hard-to-access airports and frequently flew soccer teams across South America.
Among the 75 reported to have been killed in the crash of the plane, which was part of the British Aerospace 146 stable of aircraft, were members of the Chapecoense soccer team from Brazil.
The same plane that crashed is said to have earlier this month ferried world footballer of the year Lionel Messi and his Argentina team from Brazil to Colombia between World Cup qualifier matches.
Built in the 1990s, it was part of the stable of British Aerospace 146, or BAE 146, planes. BAE 146s and the related Avro RJ models have a maximum range of about 1,700 nautical miles (1,955 miles, 3150 kms), according to David Dorman, a spokesman for BAE.
LaMia, the Bolivian operator of the crashed plane, said on its website — which has since become inaccessible — that its three BAE 146s had a maximum range of around 2,965 kms. That’s about the same as the distance between Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and Medellin, the route the plane was flying when it went down.
Aviation authorities say the plane that crash declared an emergency and lost radar contact Monday evening, local time, because of an electrical failure.
Because it can take a steep approach to landing, the BAE 146 is able to use very short runways. It has four jet engines suspended from a wing affixed to the top of the plane and typically does not carry much more than 100 passengers.
British Aerospace, which became BAE Systems in 1999, introduced the BAE 146 in 1981 and ended production in 2003 for economic reasons.
A little under 400 BAE 146s were built, and around 220 remain in service. Major clients have included British Airways, Swiss and Ireland’s CityJet.
Civil aviation authorities in Bolivia, where Monday’s flight originated, said LaMia got started as an airline promoting tourism in the city of Merida, Venezuela. But with the decline of the Venezuelan economy, it re-established itself in Bolivia, where in November 2015 it was granted permission to operate charter and cargo flights.
LaMia did not respond to emails seeking comment and the phone number listed on its website did not appear to work.
Several South American soccer teams have recently chartered flights from LaMia, including Atletico Nacional, the team Chapecoense were to play in a cup final on Wednesday.
Argentina’s state news agency said the plane that crashed had earlier been used to transport Messi and the Argentina national team this month. The aircraft has also reportedly transported Venezuela’s national squad and several top teams from Bolivia.
Over the years, the model of plane has been configured for uses other than hauling passengers, including as tankers to put out forest fires. Around 30 of the original BAE 146s were built as freighters.
According to Dorman, 22 of the remaining fleet have been converted into firefighting roles, with more likely in coming years. Prominent operators include Canada’s Conair and Neptune Aviation Services.
“It’s a demonstration of the aircraft’s ability to fly in difficult terrain,” Dorman said.
Dorman says the aircraft has “a pretty good safety record …. no better, no worse than anything else.”
The most notable crash involving the plane was in December 1987, when a Pacific Southwest Airlines flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco was hijacked by David Burke, a disgruntled ex-employee of USAir, which had recently bought Pacific. Burke is said to have shot the two pilots and three others. The plane subsequently crashed in Cayucos, California. All 43 people on board died, including Burke.
The last deadly crash involving the plane occurred in 2009, when a BAE 146 operated by Indonesia’s Aviastar Mandiri struck a hill while attempting to land in the eastern Papua province. All six onboard were killed.
Most recently, in April 2014, a BAE 146 carrying 97 people made an emergency landing shortly after takeoff from Perth, western Australia, after one of its engines caught fire. No one was injured.
BAE is responsible for checking the planes’ airworthiness and for engineering support. It says it is in contact with the U.K. Aircraft Accidents Investigation Branch, as Britain is “State of Manufacture” of the plane.
Schreck reported from Dubai. Associated Press Joshua Goodman in Bogota, Colombia, contributed reporting.