Victims' relatives in Brazil say soccer-team crash avoidable

CHAPECO, Brazil – Relatives of victims who died in an air crash that killed most members of the Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense spoke out in anger Thursday, with several saying the crash was avoidable.

Only six of the 77 passengers and crew survived, three of them players. Nineteen other players died in the crash late Monday, a few kilometres (miles) from the airport in Medellin, Colombia.

Recordings of conversations with the pilot and accounts of a surviving flight attendant, along with the lack of an explosion upon impact, indicated the BAE 146 Avro RJ85 jet ran out of fuel.

Osmar Machado, the father of defender Filipe, questioned why that plane was used. His son died on his father’s 66th birthday.

“Profit brings greed,” Machado said. “Because of 30 kilometres this plane ended (the lives of) 71 people. But what can we do now? The owner of the plane died.”

Experts have said the plane that took off from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was at its maximum flight range when it crashed into a muddy mountainside.

The team was heading to play in the first of two matches in the final of the Copa Sudamerica, South America’s No. 2 club tournament.

Williams Brasiliano, uncle of Chapecoense midfielder Arthur Maia, said the crash could have been avoided if Chapecoense had chosen a regular airline to travel to Colombia instead of a charter.

“Look how complicated that flight was going to be even if it had arrived,” Brasiliano said, tears in his eyes. “Even if they had arrived, it is clear that they would be tired from the trip to play a final. This can’t be right. I doubt that a bigger club would have done the same.”

Chapecoense spokesman Andrei Copetti said more than 30 clubs had used the LaMia company that operated the crashed jet, including Argentina and Bolivia.

“LaMia also took us to Barranquilla (Colombia) to play against Junior,” Copetti said. “They had a good service then. It was the airline that got in touch with us because they have experience in doing these long flights in South America. We chose this company for technical reasons. All these rumours have to be discarded.”

He said the governing body of South American football, known as CONMEBOL, was not involved in choosing LaMia. He said also said the city had no role.

Soccer legend Pele expressed concern for the families in his first comments about the crash.

“We have to ask God to give strength to their families for this sadness to go as quickly as possible,” Pele told ESPN Brasil. “We have to pray, send positive energies to the families. Support those that are still here, in whichever way possible.”

The team announced that a funeral will be held for several players, staff and local journalists at Arena Conda stadium Saturday. It was not clear whether all the victims would be present at a service expected to draw 100,000 people to the 22,000-seat arena.

Chapecoense acting president Ivan Tozzo said Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos and FIFA President Gianni Infantino were to be at the funeral.

Brazilian President Michel Temer will be present only at the arrival of the bodies at Chapeco’s airport. Temer has avoided public meetings since he was booed at both the Olympics and Paralympic Games in Rio de Janeiro this year after he took office following the impeachment of President Dilma Rousseff.

Also on Thursday, the president of Brazilian club Atletico Mineiro said his team would not play its final-round match of the Brazilian league season against Chapecoense.

Chapecoense’s acting president said earlier in the week that the head of the Brazilian Football Confederation, Marco Polo Del Nero, had ordered Chapecoense to play its final match using a team made up mostly of junior players.

“We believe in sport,” Atletico Mineiro president Daniel Nepomuceno said. “We respect the pain. It’s not the moment to demand that players” play this match.

Nepomuceno said that he had talked with Del Nero and that the CBF head had changed his mind.

Del Nero was widely criticized on social media for his earlier statements.