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Chapecoense tragedy: Plane was low on fuel when it crashed, say investigators

That’s according to a preliminary report released by investigators today.

Updated 9pm

Source: Aerocivil Col/YouTube

THE INITIAL FINDINGS of a report into the crashed Chapecoense flight say that the plane was low on fuel when it crashed.

The details were released today in a video by Aerocivil Colombia, which also said that the passengers had a minimal chance of survival.

There were 72 people on board the flight when it crashed on 28 November while carrying the Brazilian Chapecoense football team. There were six survivors.

A translation of the statement from Aerocivil says that 23 professionals, of which 10 were from Colombia and 13 from abroad, formed the accident investigation team.

The final report of the investigation will be delivered in April 2017.

Freddy Bonilla, the head of Colombia’s civil aviation authority, said investigations indicated the British Aerospace 146 jet had run out of fuel.

That has been the leading theory on the crash ever since a harrowing recording emerged of the pilot radioing the control tower to report a fuel emergency.

The pilots “were aware of the fuel limitations they had at the time. It was neither adequate nor sufficient,” Bonilla told a press conference.

However, they did not sound the alarm until several minutes before the crash, he said.

The plane was overweight by about 500 kilograms, but that did not appear to have played a “decisive” role, he added.

According to the civil aviation authority, the pilots requested priority to land at 9:49 pm (2.49 GMT) because of a fuel problem. They then began their descent before receiving authorisation.

At 9:53pm, one of their engines stopped. Three minutes later, all four were gone.

The plane declared an emergency at 9.57pm because of a “total electrical failure,” then disappeared from the radar. A minute later, the pilots descended to 9,000 feet — 1,000 less than the minimum altitude for the region.

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At 9.58 pm, the plane slammed into the Cerro Gordo mountain at a speed of 115 knots (around 130 miles per hour).

On YouTube, the Aerocivil said:

Within the investigation, there were displacements to the accident site, by land and air, and interviews were conducted with survivors, witnesses, rescuers and expert crews. The flight recorders (black boxes), found less than 24 hours after the accident, were transferred into custody by three Colombian Civil Aeronautics researchers to the United Kingdom for analysis and reading.
Likewise, another team of three Aerocivil investigators, headed by Cr. Freddy Bonilla, Secretary of Air Safety, went to Bolivia to obtain more documents and evidence with the aeronautical and prosecutorial authorities of that country. In this process, the Administration of Airports and Auxiliary Services for Air Navigation (AASANA) of Bolivia did not supply or supply the information requested.
According to the report, the investigators did not identify a technical fault that could have caused or contributed to the accident or an act of sabotage or suicide attempt. The evidence gathered also reveals that the aircraft suffered fuel exhaustion and was virtually destroyed.
The magnitude of the impact and subsequent damages of the aircraft also indicate that there was no fire and that there was a minimum survival capacity of both crew and passengers. In the accident, six of the 77 occupants survived.
Based on the preliminary analysis, the accident investigation continues and will focus on aspects such as organization, operational surveillance and supervision, fuel planning, decision making and survival.

Passengers on the flight said they were oblivious to the issue and had no time to prepare for the crash, according to one of six survivors.

“Nobody knew there was a problem,” Erwin Tumiri, a technician on the flight, told Blu radio of Colombia.

“We felt the plane descending, but all along we thought it was preparing to land. Everything happened very quickly and from one moment to the next the plane began to shake, the lights went out and the emergency lights turned on.”

- Additional reporting - © AFP, 2016

Read: Bodies of victims of plane crash which wiped out football team flown back to Brazil>

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