Dozens of hearses to take Colombia crash victims toward final flight home

MEDELLIN, Colombia Dozens of hearses carrying the coffins of those killed when a plane flying Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team crashed into a Colombian mountain will leave Medellin for the airport on Friday to be flown home.

The disaster on Monday night killed 71 people and shocked soccer fans the world over. It appears that the LAMIA Bolivia BAe146 airliner ran out of fuel, lost electrical power and was preparing for an emergency landing as it smashed into the mountains in central Colombia.

Only six on board the flight survived, including three members of the soccer squad en route to the biggest game in their history: the Copa Sudamericana final.

The tragedy plunged Latin America’s largest nation, Brazil, into mourning as it reels from a deep recession and political crisis. Video footage of the team seated before takeoff showed them laughing and pulling faces at the camera.

The bodies and ashes of five Bolivians will leave shortly on a Hercules aircraft and those of a Venezuelan on a commercial flight. The remains of a Paraguayan victim left Colombia late on Thursday.

A convoy carrying the dead Brazilians will leave the funeral home in Medellin later on Friday for the journey along a mountain road to Rionegro airport, where the victims will be flown back to Brazil.

In the club’s small farming hometown in southern Brazil, workers erected temporary structures in the stadium to shelter the coffins of 51 victims – players, staff and journalists – expected to arrive at night for an open-air wake on Saturday.

Some 100,000 fans, about half the city’s population, are likely to attend, as is Brazilian President Michel Temer and Gianni Infantino, president of world soccer governing body FIFA.

Roberto Di Marchi came to Colombia to escort the body of his cousin Nilson Folle Junior, 29, a director of Chapecoense, back home.

“He always traveled with the team, to every game, he was a fantastic person, he was so dedicated and loved the Chapecoense,” Di Marchi said at the funeral home, adding Folle’s father was one of the team’s founders.

Two of the Bolivian flight crew and a journalist also survived along with the three players. They remain in hospital.

“Authorities are working on the diplomatic paperwork around the clock to ensure that by 10 at night all the bodies are returned to their families,” Colombian police commander Colonel Jose Contreras.

Two black boxes recovered from the crash site on a muddy hillside in wooded highlands near the town of La Union are due to be sent this week for examination by experts in Britain, where the jet was manufactured.

Colombian aviation officials said the absence of fuel at the crash site and in the plane’s tubing indicated it had completely run out of fuel.

The initial investigation confirmed Bolivian pilot Miguel Quiroga’s final words to the control tower at Medellin’s airport on a crackly recording obtained by Colombian media.

He can be heard telling the control tower the plane was “in total failure, total electrical failure, without fuel.”

Air traffic control asked the LAMIA pilot to wait while another flight made an emergency landing. International flight regulations require aircraft to carry enough reserve fuel to fly for 30 minutes after reaching their destination.

The LAMIA pilot requested urgent permission to land before the audio went silent.

Bolivian authorities on Thursday suspended LAMIA’s operating license.

(Writing by Helen Murphy; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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