The world of football united in mourning after a plane carrying the Brazilian Serie A side Chapecoense crashed, resulting in the deaths of 71 people including players and staff of the Santa Catarina based club.

The plane was travelling to Medellin in Colombia where the Brazilian top flight side was scheduled to face the city’s Atletico Nacional in the first leg of the final of the Copa Sudamericana, South America’s secondary continental club competition.  The aircraft’s crew reported a fault only minutes before they were scheduled to land before the vehicle crashed in the La Union municipality in the north-west of the country.  Of the 77 crew and passengers on board, only six survived—three players, two crew and one journalist.  Another player, goalkeeper Danilo, had initially survived the crash but later died in hospital.

The exact cause of the crash remains unknown, with official investigations expected to last months. Early reports suggested that an electrical fault or lack of fuel had caused the plane to crash.

The scheduled fixture was set to be the biggest in the history of Chapecoense, a club formed in 1973 and competing in only their third season in the Brazilian Serie A, the nation’s top professional league.  Their route to the Copa Sudamericana final included a penalty shootout victory over Argentinian giants Independiente, the continent’s most successful club side.  Final opponents Atletico Nacional expressed their sadness at the incident and called on CONMEBOL, South American football’s governing body, to award the championship to Chapecoense.

Nineteen of the club’s players and the entire coaching staff were killed in the crash which also claimed the lives of twenty journalists.  In a gesture of solidarity rival Brazilian clubs offered to loan players to Chapecoense without a cost and called on the Brazilian Football Confederation to declare the club be made immune from relegation for three seasons.

The world’s largest clubs were quick to offer their support and condolences.  The players of Spanish giants Real Madrid and Barcelona held a minutes silence before commencing training on the morning following the crash, with both clubs declaring their thoughts lay with the families of the victims.  English side Manchester United suffered a similarly devastating tragedy when eleven of the club’s players and staff were amongst the twenty-three fatalities when a plane carrying the team, supporters and journalists crashed on a runway in Munich in 1958.  A statement from the club read, “The thoughts of everyone at Manchester United are with Chapecoense and all those affected by the tragedy in Colombia”.

Brazilian footballing icon Pele described the incident as a “tragic loss”, saying “Brazilian football is in mourning.”

– Alistair Sargent, Correspondent (Sport)

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