Daybreak has revealed the devastating aftermath of a plane crash that killed 75 people in Colombia as details emerged Tuesday of the pilot’s desperate attempts to save his passengers.
Only six of the 81 people on board the Bolivian Lamia plane survived the crash which left debris scattered across the mountainside outside Medellin.
Early reports suggested five people had survived the tragedy as one person pulled alive from the wreckage later died in hospital.
The aircraft was transporting the Brazilian first division Chapecoense football team when it suffered electrical problems about 10pm Monday and crashed into a mountainous area.
Colombia’s civil aviation authority has said the plane had been given priority to land but didn’t make it to the airport.
The plane’s pilot, named on Tuesday as Miquel Quiroga, was said to have circled before the crash in a desperate attempt to burn off fuel and prevent an explosion on impact.
Pictures have since emerged of Quiroga posing with Chapecoense players before take-off.
The team reportedly had 22 members on board the aircraft, three of which are said to have survived the accident. They have been named as defender Alan Ruschel, reserve goalkeeper Jakson Follmann and defender Helio Hermito Zampier Neto.
Danilo Padiha, who had earlier been pictured in selfies from the plane with Ruschel, was also pulled from the wreckage alive, but later died in hospital.
Rafael Correa Gobbato, a journalist, flight attendant Ximena Suarez and flight mechanic Erwin Tumiri, are said to be the remaining three survivors.
Also onboard the plane was Paraquayan pilot Gustavo Encina, who was part of the crew, the Mirror reported. His wife, the newspaper reported, has said the airline company had told her that her husband was on board.
Just last month, the same plane transported the Argentinian football team, including Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria, to Belo Horizonte in Brazil, where they played Brazil in a World Cup qualifier match.
“It’s a tragedy of huge proportions,” Medellin’s Mayor Federico Gutierrez Gutierrez told Blu Radio on his way to the crash site in a mountainous area outside the city.
Chapecoense was scheduled to play Wednesday in the first of a two-game Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional of Medellin.
The team, from the small city of Chapeco, joined Brazil’s first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it to the Copa Sudamericana finals last week by defeating Argentina’s legendary San Lorenzo squad. They are currently in ninth place in the Brazilian competition.
The club wrote on Facebook following the tragedy: “May God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests traveling with our delegation.”
Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez said from the search and rescue command center: “What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy.”
Expressions of grief poured in from all over the football world.
South America’s federation canceled all scheduled matches in a show of solidarity, Real Madrid’s squad interrupted its training for a minute of silence and Argentina legend Diego Maradona sent his condolences to the victims’ families over Facebook.
Rescuers working through the night were initially heartened after pulling three passengers alive from the wreckage. But as the hours passed, heavy rainfall and low visibility grounded helicopters and slowed efforts to reach the crash site.
At daybreak, dozens of bodies were quickly collected into white bags while rescuers scavenged through pieces of the plane’s fuselage strewn across the muddy mountainside.
The aircraft is owned by LaMia, a company with roots in Venezuela and that has a close relationship with several premier South American squads.
Alfredo Bocanegra, the head of Colombia’s aviation authority, said initial reports suggest the aircraft was suffering electrical problems although investigators were also looking into an account from one of the survivors that the plane had run out of fuel about five minutes from its expected landing at Jose Maria Cordova airport outside Medellin.
Bolivia’s civil aviation agency said the aircraft picked up the Brazilian team in Santa Cruz, where players had arrived earlier in the day on a commercial flight from Sao Paulo, Brazil.
Spokesman Cesar Torrico said that the plane underwent an inspection before departing for Colombia and reported no problems.
Brazil’s president Michel Tamer has declared three days of national mourning.