Brazil and the entire soccer world were in mourning Tuesday after a chartered plane carrying a first-division Brazilian soccer team to a historic game slammed into a Colombian hillside, killing 71 of the 81 people aboard, authorities said.
The passengers included members of Chapecoense, a Brazilian soccer team that rose from relative obscurity to play in one of South America’s most prestigious tournaments. The team had been scheduled to play in the Copa Sudamerica finals against Atletico Nacional on Wednesday in Medellin.
“May God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests traveling with our delegation,” the club said in a statement after the crash Monday night. Juan Carlos de la Cuesta, president of Atletico Nacional, expressed solidarity with Chapecoense and requested the team be declared tournament champion.
Chapecoense represents Chapeco, a southern city of about 200,000 more than 800 miles southwest of Rio de Janeiro. The climb to celebrity status was a Cinderella story that drew headlines across the nation. Less than a decade ago Chapecoense was mired in the nation’s “D” league, essentially low minor leagues.
In recent years, it steadily rose through the ranks, reaching the top division of Brazilian soccer in 2014. Authorities said more than 20 journalists joined the team on the flight in anticipation of Wednesday’s game.
“The pain is terrible. Just as we had made it, I will not say to the top, but to have national prominence, a tragedy like this happens,” club vice-president Ivan Tozzo told Globo SportTV. “It is very difficult, a very great tragedy.”