After making an emergency call reporting an electrical failure, a plane carrying 77 people including the Brazilian football team Chapecoense crashed into the mountains of Medellin, Colombia, Monday night, killing 71 and leaving only five survivors.
The New York Times reports the team was on the way to the Copa Sudamericana, having suddenly emerged this season as a successful regional competitor and capturing national attention.
The team’s small, 210,000-person hometown of Chapeco has been left “stunned,” said local resident and professor of media studies Roberto Panarotto to the New York Times.
“This is a relatively small city, so everyone knows somebody who was on the plane,” he said. “Everybody is shocked, and nobody really knows how to react. Nothing like this has ever happened here.”
In a country and sports system rife with corruption, Panarotto said Chapecoense was unique.
“Lots of football clubs in Brazil have problems with the way they are run, with corruption and bad management practices, but Chapecoense is different,” he said.
Only three players are reported by the Daily Mail to have survived the crash. Defender Alan Ruschel, defender Helio Zemper, and goalie Jackson Follmann were pulled from the wreckage. Goalie Marcos Padilha survived the crash but died later of his injuries.
The team was scheduled to compete against Colombian team Atletico Nacional Wednesday in Medellin, Colombia. However, on Tuesday the team requested that the South American Football Federation award Chapecoense the trophy, according to the BBC, “as a posthumous homage to the victims.” They also sent a tweet asking fans to appear at the stadium when the game was originally scheduled dressed in white.
In addition to the players, 21 journalists and nine team members were also on board.
Hours before the crash that killed him, team manager Cadu Gaucho described the trip to Medellin as “the most important in the club’s history” on Facebook.
It was the first Brazilian team in three years to reach the Copa Sudamericana, and had become a national force in football almost overnight. BBC Brasil reporter Fernando Duarte said, “Their story is a fantastic fairytale but now it has reached a tragic end.”
The BBC reports that Brazilian teams Flamengo, Palmeira, and Sao Paulo have offered to loan Chapecoense players so that the club can continue. Sao Paulo also advocated to keep the club exempt from the second tier for three seasons to rebuild.
Brazilian President Michel Temer declared three days of national mourning for the club. Spanish football clubs Real Madrid and Barcelona held a minute of silence in honor of Chapecoense.
In the town of Chapeco, businesses remained closed and schools released their students in the wake of the tragedy. Supporters gathered at the club stadium, Arena Conda, to mourn their loss.
Supporter Djair Hipolito commented that the loss was felt uniquely in their town.
“They were such humble boys. We all knew them. They took the time to talk to us, take photos, visit people in the hospital. I know that other teams are not like this. We should be celebrating now.”
Board member Gelson Dalla spoke to NBC about the crash, saying, “I woke at 4 a.m. with the news and cried a lot today. We are a different club. A very small club in Brazil with a close relationship with players and his parents, wives and kids.”
The crash has also brought back memories of similar historical tragedies in the world of football.
In 1949, the wildly successful Italian football team Torino died in a crash that killed all 31 on board. The team revisits the site of the crash annually to pay respects.
In 1958, Manchester United garnered international attention when a plane crash killed eight players in a faulty takeoff.
The most recent accident was in 1993, when 18 members of the Zambia national football team were killed in a crash shortly after the plane took off post-refueling.
[Featured Image By Heuler Andrey/Getty Images]