The pilot of a plane that crashed in Colombia killing all but six of the people on board told air traffic controllers he had run out of fuel just moments before the disaster.
An audio recording of communications leaked to W Radio shows the pilot of the LaMia Airlines plane repeatedly requesting permission to land, in Spanish, due to a “total electric failure” and lack of fuel, saying he was losing control of the aircraft.
A female controller can be heard giving instructions as the BAE 146 loses speed and altitude about eight miles from Medellin Airport. Just before going silent the pilot says he is flying at an altitude of 9,000ft in the Andes mountains.
The recording matches an account given by the co-pilot of another plane in the area at the time the aircraft went down on Monday night, killing 71 people.
Six of those on board survived – two crew members, a journalist and three members of Brazil’s Chapecoense football team, en route to the biggest game in their history at the Copa Sudamericana final.
Juan Sebastian Upegui, the co-pilot on a nearby Avianca plane, said he overheard the LaMia pilot telling the control tower in Medellin he was in trouble.
“Mayday mayday... help us get to the runway... help, help,” Upegui described the pilot as saying. “Then it ended. We all started to cry.”
Priority had already been given to a plane from airline VivaColombia, which had also reported problems, Mr Upegui said.
Crew members who survived the disaster described how the lights went out and passengers began to shout in the moments before the aircraft crashed.
Bolivian flight technician Erwin Tumir said he was alive because he strictly followed safety instructions.
“Many passengers got up from their seats and started yelling,” he told Colombia's Radio Caracol. “I put the bag between my legs and went into the fetal position as recommended.”
Bolivian stewardess Ximena Suarez, another survivor who was found hours after the collision near the plane’s wreckage, said the lights went out in the minute before the plane hit the mountain.
“The plane went out completely and had a sharp decline, followed by a big impact," she told El Colombiano.
An investigation into the cause of the collision of the BAE 146 aircraft, made by BAE Systems, is now underway.
Doctors said that Ms Suarez and Mr Tumiri were shaken and bruised but neither was in a critical condition, while journalist Rafael Valmorbida was in intensive care for multiple rib fractures that partly collapsed a lung.
The crash is thought to have killed 21 other journalists who were travelling with the team for the match.
Chapecoense’s goalkeeper Jackson Follmann was recovering from the amputation of his right leg, doctors said.
Defender Helio Neto remained in intensive care with severe trauma to his skull, thorax and lungs. Another defender for the team, Alan Ruschel, has undergone surgery on his spine.
Volunteer rescuer Santiago Campuzano, who attended the scene of the plane crash, told news site Ovacion the first words Mr Ruschel said were: “My family, my friends, where are they?”
Investigators from Brazil have joined with a Colombian team to check two black boxes from the crash site on a muddy hillside in highlands near the town of La Union.
Bolivia, where the charter company LaMia was based, and the UK also sent experts to help investigate what caused the British-made plane to plunge from the sky.
Hundreds of Chapecoense fans gathered at the club’s stadium in Chapecó in Brazil on Tuesday to mourn those killed in the crash.
The team had been enjoying a remarkable ascent in Brazilian football and were about to play their biggest match when the crash happened.
Following the tragedy, Brazil’s president Michel Temer declared three days of national mourning.
Additional reporting by agencies
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