An Avoidable Tragedy

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The crash of LAMIA Flight 2933, which crashed near Medellin, Colombia on Monday went largely without note here in the U.S., as we scrambled to assimilate every shred of news and controversy surrounding Donald Trump.  The plane was carrying the Chapecoense football (aka soccer in the U.S.) team from Brazil.  Of the 77 aboard the plane, only six survived:  2 crew members, a journalist, and 3 team members.

Imagine, if you will, the excitement those players felt when they boarded the plane for their first-ever international final in the Colombian city of Medellín. The team’s history has been called a ‘Cinderella fairy tale’ by some.  “Chapecoense is a relatively young club, compared to the more well-established giants of the Brazilian game, and it seemed to be coming of age this season,” according to football journalist and author Euan McTear. “The club returned to the top flight of Brazilian football just three years ago after a three-decade hiatus, and a number of the players that led them on this incredible run to the final of the Copa Sudamericana were the same players who helped them win promotion from the Serie B in 2013. I think that is why people warmed to them and to their success, because they were witnessing before their eyes the progression of a united group of players and of friends.”

The crash would be a tragedy by any standard, but is all the more tragic because it was a result of poor planning and decision-making.  The plane simply ran out of fuel.  When the flight plan was filed, the estimated time of the journey and the plane’s total range were the same – four hours and 22 minutes – leaving no time for any delays. Then the unthinkable happened – another plane with mechanical problems was put ahead of the Chapecoense plane, leaving the plane circling the airport for a few minutes.  And then the inevitable – the plane ran out of fuel and crashed into a mountain.

According to one report, the fault lies with the 36-year-old Bolivian pilot, Miguel Quiroga, who was supposed to make a stop for fuel but chose not to in order to save the charter airline, LaMia, of which Quiroga was part-owner, money.  However, according to The Guardian, the flight plan did not include a fuel stop.  Another pilot, however, Brazilian pilot, Evandro Garcia, blames the Bolivian civil aviation authorities, who he said were more lax than other South American countries. “Their criteria, their demands, are below other countries,” he said. A number of high-level aviation officials were suspended on December 1st as part of an investigation into the crash

Regardless of who is to blame, it is a tragedy for the Brazilian people, even more so for the families of the victims.  More controversy came later in the week when Brazilian Football Association president Marco Polo Del Nero insisted that Chapecoense play their next league game against Atlético Mineiro. “This game has to happen. There has to be a big party.” Chapecoense’s surviving vice-president Ivan Tozzo said he had no players, Del Nero replied: “You have the youth team and the players who stayed.” What a warm-hearted guy, eh?  But Atlético refused to play the game. “We believe in sport, respect the pain, this is not the moment to demand anything of any player,” said Daniel Nepomuceno, Atlético’s president.

Three Chapecoense players were among the six survivors – defenders Allan Ruschel and Helio Neto, and goalkeeper Jackson Follman, who has had one leg amputated.  The father-in-law of the pilot has publicly asked forgiveness for his son-in-law, but his plea is falling on deaf ears, as anger at the senselessness of the tragedy grows.

My reason for writing this now?  In ordinary, normal times, this story would have been major news in all the media, and it was outside the U.S.  But this week, we here in the U.S. are so focused on Trump, his cabinet nominations, his every move, that we have lost sight of the world beyond our own borders.  Perhaps we have even lost sight of the everyday world within our own borders, as the only newsworthy stories seem to have the word “Trump” somewhere within the first few lines.  There is life outside of next year’s president, and I just thought it was worth taking a few short minutes to remember that – to remember that the entire world does not revolve around one single person.  I now return you to your regularly scheduled programming, with a hope that you will keep the families of the Brazilian football team in your hearts today.

7 thoughts on “An Avoidable Tragedy

  1. As you say, we are fixated on the circus that is Donald Trump and have lost sight of the world “out there.” That’s the real tragedy here. We need to stay connected. (I had several tennis players form Bogota who used to fly into that airport and as they described it to me, it is scary as hell — even with a full fuel tank. Incredible story.)

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