Bolivian authorities have suspended the license of a tiny charter airline whose plane crashed in Colombia this week after apparently running out of fuel, killing 71 people, including most of a Brazilian soccer team on its way to a regional cup final, reports The Guardian.
Monday night’s disaster sent shock waves across the global soccer community and plunged Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation, into mourning. The small Chapecoense team was traveling on a charter flight operated by airline LaMia Bolivia to the biggest game in its history, the final of the Copa Sudamericana.
Investigators combing the crash site on a wooded hillside outside of Medellin found no traces of fuel in the wreckage of the BAe 146, made by Britain’s BAE Systems Plc, signaling that the crash may have resulted from lack of fuel.
International flight regulations require aircraft to carry enough reserve fuel to fly for 30 minutes after reaching their destination.
Bolivian authorities said they were suspending LaMia’s operating license and replacing the management of its aviation authority to ensure a transparent investigation. It said that neither decision implied wrongdoing.
Medellin air traffic controllers asked the LaMia pilot to wait while another flight made an emergency landing. Details on the length of the wait and problems with the other flight were not immediately available.
Air traffic controller Yaneth Molina, who received the distress call, said in a letter written to colleagues that she had received death threats following the crash.
A crackling recording obtained by Colombian media of Bolivian pilot Miguel Quiroga’s final words showed he told the control tower at Medellin’s airport that the plane was “in total failure, total electrical failure, without fuel”.
He requested urgent permission to land, and then the audio went silent.
LaMia chief executive officer Gustavo Vargas on Wednesday said the plane had been correctly inspected before departure and should have had enough fuel for about four and a half hours. In such situations, it is at the pilot’s discretion whether to refuel, Vargas said.
Only 0.5% of accidents on record were blamed on low fuel, according to the US-based Flight Safety Foundation.
In the soccer club’s small farming hometown of Chapeco in southern Brazil, workers on Thursday erected temporary structures in the stadium to shelter the coffins of 51 victims – players, staff and journalists – expected to arrive back on Friday for an open-air wake.
Some 100,000 fans – about half the city’s population – were expected to attend, as were Brazilian president Michel Temer and Gianni Infantino, president of world soccer governing body Fifa.
On Wednesday night, when the Copa Sudamericana final had been scheduled, tens of thousands of fans assembled in tribute at Chapecoense’s arena and the stadium in Medellin of rival team Atlético Nacional.
Fox Sports Brasil, which lost six of its journalists in the crash, broadcast 90 minutes of a black screen in the time slot of Wednesday’s game.
A spokesman for Britain’s Air Accidents Investigation Branch said an inspector for the agency and Colombian officials would transport the aircraft’s black boxes back to the UK, where the information will be downloaded.
Only six on board the flight survived: three Chapecoense team members, a journalist and two Bolivian crew members.