81 people on board plane carrying Brazilian football team that has crashed in Colombia
A CHARTERED aircraft with 81 people on board, including a Brazilian first division soccer team heading to Colombia for a regional tournament final, has crashed on its way to Medellin's international airport.
Aviation authorities said there are reports of at least six survivors, with a local mayor confirming that at least three passengers were found alive.
The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, operated by charter airline LaMia, declared an emergency at 10pm local time on Monday (3am UK time) because of an electrical failure.
"It's a tragedy of huge proportions," Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez told Blu Radio on his way to the site in a mountainous area outside the city where the aircraft crashed.
The plane, which made a stop in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was transporting the first division Chapecoense soccer team from southern Brazil. They were scheduled to play in the first of a two-game Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional of Medellin on Wednesday.
"May God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests traveling with our delegation," the club said in a brief statement on its Facebook page.
South America's soccer federation extended its condolences to the entire Chapecoense community and said its president, Luis Dominguez, was on his way to Medellin. All soccer activities were suspended until further notice, the organisation said in a statement.
Elkin Ospina, mayor of La Ceja, near where the crash took place, said the priority was searching for survivors, and scores of rescuers working through the night had been heartened after pulling three passengers alive from the wreckage.
Authorities and rescuers were immediately activated but an air force helicopter had to turn back because of low visibility. They urged journalists to stay away from the hard-to-access area and keep off the roads to facilitate access for ambulances and rescuers. The area has been hit by heavy rain in recent days.
An ambulance transporting a male passenger with oxygen and covered in a blanket arrived on a stretcher at a local hospital, Blu Radio reported. He was apparently alive.
The plane was carrying 72 passengers and nine crew members, aviation authorities said in a statement. Local radio said the same aircraft transported Argentina's national squad for a match earlier this month in Brazil, and had previously transported Venezuela's national team.
A video published on the team's Facebook page showed players getting ready for the flight at Sao Paulo's Guarulhos international airport earlier on Monday.
The team, from the small city of Chapeco, was in the middle of a fairytale season. It joined Brazil's first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it last week to the Copa Sudamericana finals - the equivalent of the Uefa Europa League tournament - after defeating Argentina's San Lorenzo squad.