Colombian authorities presented its first conclusions surrounding the crash with a plane carrying Brazilian football team Chapecoense. A lack of fuel – which produced a “total electric failure” – caused Tuesday’s tragedy. “We can confirm that the aircraft didn’t have any fuel left at the moment of the crash,” said Freddy Bonilla, Colombia’s Secretary for Air Safety.
An audio recording of communications leaked to W Radio showed the pilot requesting permission to land. Pilot Miguel Quiroga asked for priority at landing due to a lack of fuel and electrical problems. The fact that there was no explosion upon the crash indicates that the aircraft had no fuel.
Aviation protocols establish that an aircraft must have enough fuel to finish its route, taking into consideration possible delays at landing and the necessity of traveling to different cities. However, even if Lamia’s Avro RJ-85 Jet had filled its fuel tanks before leaving Bolivia, it would have arrived at Medellín pushing its fuel range limit. The jet can travel up to 3,000 kilometers without refueling; Medellín’s airport is 2,975 kilometers away from Santa Cruz de la Sierra, the departure airport.
Though the plane was set to make a stop in Bogota (Colombia) to refuel, it went straight to the final destination. Colombian civil aviation authorities will investigate why the plane didn’t have enough fuel.
Juan Sebastian Upegui, the co-pilot on a nearby Avianca aircraft, said he overheard the Lamia pilot talking to the control tower. “Mayday mayday... help us get to the runway... help, help,” Upegui described the pilot as saying. “Then it ended. We all started to cry.”
The control tower had given priority to a VivaColombia plane, which also had reported problems upon landing. Nevertheless, Bonilla has assured that it didn’t affect Chapecoense’s flight.
Only six people have survived the crash: three players, one journalist, and two crew members. Bolivian flight attendant Ximena Suarez said the lights went out just prior to the crash. While five victims are in stable condition, goalkeeper Jackson Follmann had his right leg amputated and remains in critical condition.