CHAPECOENSE PLANE CRASH
Thousands of people in Chapeco in Brazil have held a vigil for the victims of a plane crash, who included most of the city’s football team.
Fans of the Chapecoense team walked from the city centre to the stadium where they prayed and sang. A service was also held in the city’s cathedral.
The team were flying to Colombia for the biggest match in their history when their plane went down shortly before landing in Medellin, late on Monday.
Six of the 77 people on board survived.
It is not clear what brought down the chartered aircraft, but some unconfirmed reports have suggested there was an electrical fault, while others say the plane was low on fuel. Both flight recorders have been recovered.
Crew member Ximena Suarez, who survived the flight, said “the lights went out and I don’t remember anything after that”.
Some 10,000 people – including family members of the players – gathered in Chapeco’s Arena Conda stadium on Tuesday evening, still stunned by the extent of their loss.
Fans wearing the club’s green and white colours sang the names of the players and shouted “champions”. Families of the players hugged each other on the pitch.
“It is really hard to speak. We always come to the games. We’d come to the stadium and sit right in the same spot,” said fan Daniel Marline.
“And we came here today, we sat here, but we know that this weekend, next week, our fighting team won’t be here any more in this stadium. It’s tough. It’s really tough.”
Brazil has begun three days of official mourning, while minute silences have been held at football grounds around the world.
Brazilians doctors have already flown to Colombia in order to identify the bodies, and arrange for them to be brought home. This could happen in the coming days, as the lack of a fire at the crash site has made retrieving and identifying the bodies of the 71 victims relatively easy, emergency workers say.
The team were due to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana against the Colombian team Atletico Nacional later on Wednesday.
Atletico Nacional has asked fans instead to come to the stadium dressed in white for a candelit vigil. They have also offered to concede the game to ensure Chapecoense are declared the champions.
In other tributes, Brazilian first division football teams have offered to lend players to Chapecoense free of charge for the 2017 season, and asked the league to protect the club from relegation for the next three years.
Leading footballers, from Barcelona stars Lionel Messi and Neymar, to Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney, have also paid tribute to the players.
Alongside the football team, there were also 21 journalists on board the doomed flight – including well-known Brazilian commentator and ex-footballer Mario Sergio Pontes de Paiva.
As well as Ms Suarez, flight technician Erwin Tumiri and journalist Rafael Henzel also survived.
Mr Tumiri said he had “followed the safety guidelines”.
“Many stood up and started shouting. I put the suitcases between my legs and assumed the brace position”.
Chapeco’s mayor and the manager’s son were among four people who had been on the passenger manifest but did not make the flight. “Only God knows why I ended up staying behind,” Mayor Luciano Buligon told Brazil’s TV Globo.
Hailing from a small city of less than 200,000 inhabitants, Chapecoense football club had become an unlikely success stories in recent years, reaching Brazil’s Serie A in 2014 and beating more established teams.
Last week, it became the first Brazilian team in three years to make it to the final of the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s second most important club competition, after beating Argentine side San Lorenzo.
Shortly before boarding the flight in Sao Paulo, Chapecoense manager Cadu Gaucho, 36, appeared in a video posted on the team’s Facebook site [in Portuguese] describing the trip to Medellin as “the club’s most important to date”.
One of the founders of the club, Alvadir Pelisser, told BBC Brasil the tragedy had put an “end to everyone’s dream”. “We were a family, I’m shocked,” he added.