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Bolivian Officials Blame Airline and Pilot for Chapecoense Plane Crash

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Chapecoense fans are mourning the loss of the 71 people who died late Monday night when the plane carrying the soccer team, its traveling party and several media members crashed into the Colombian mountains. Photo: Associated Press

The plane crash that killed 71 people last month, including 19 players of Brazilian football club Chapecoense, was the fault of the pilot and the airline, according to a Bolivian Government report.

Operated by Bolivian airline LaMia, the plane crashed into a mountain just outside of the city the Colombian city Medellín on November 28.

Pilot Miguel Quiroga was among those killed in the incident, from which six people survived.

An audio recording of Quiroga, who was also a co-owner of LaMia, suggested the plane did not have enough fuel for the journey from Bolivian city Santa Cruz de la Sierra.

“What has happened in this tragic event is the direct responsibility of the LaMia company and the pilot,” Milton Claros, Bolivia’s Minister of Public Works and Services, said at a news conference.

Claros, who oversees the country’s aviation authority, also said his Ministry would prosecute some public servants over “some omissions that have occurred.”

Among them is Celia Castedo, an air navigation officer who has sought asylum in Brazil after pointing out irregularities in the flight plan, and LaMia co-owner Marco Antonio Rocha Benegas, whose whereabouts are unknown.

Gustavo Vargas Gamboa, LaMia’s chief executive, and his son Gustavo Vargas Villegas, a former official with Bolivia’s aviation authority, are being held pending trial.

Gamboa is accused of manslaughter and other charges, while Villegas is being held on charges that he misused his influence in authorizing the license of the plane that crashed.

They both deny wrongdoing.

As well as the Chapecoense players, club officials and journalists also lost their lives.

The six survivors were three players, two aircrew and a journalist.

According to Brazil’s O Globo newspaper, delays getting from São Paulo to Santa Cruz de la Sierra, where the team had chartered the plane, meant a scheduled refueling stop in the Bolivian city of Cobija was abandoned because the airport does not operate at night.

Quiroga allegedly had the option to refuel in Colombia’s capital Bogotá, but instead headed straight to Medellín.

In a leaked recording of the final minutes of the doomed flight, Quiroga can be heard repeatedly requesting authorization from the air traffic tower to land because of “fuel problems.”

A controller explained another plane from airline VivaColombia had been diverted with mechanical problems and had priority.

As the plane circled in a holding pattern, the pilot grew more desperate, saying “complete electrical failure, without fuel.”

Just before the audio recording ends, Quiroga is heard asking urgently for directions to the airport.

Chapecoense had been heading to Medellín to play the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final, which is the continent’s second biggest club competition behind the Copa Libertadores.

Earlier this month, the South American Football Confederation (CONMEBOL) awarded Chapecoense the Copa Sudamericana title as a mark of respect to the victims.

Colombia’s Atlético Nacional, the other club involved in the final, asked South America’s football governing body to give Chapecoense the trophy and prize money, worth $2 million.

By Daniel Etchells

Republished with permission from insidethegames.biz

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