Eternal Champions: Chapecoense FC

On the 28th of November 2016, a flight from the town of Santa Cruz de la Sierra took off, anticipating eagerly to land in Medellin. On board were the Brazillian team of Chapecoense, hoping to play the game of their lives. An away leg of the final for the 2016 Copa Sundamericana.

On 6:18 in local time, they boarded off with 77 people; 73 passengers consisting of the players, club staff, the media and 4 crew members. Unaware of the tragedy that awaited them, some dealt cards, ate or dozed off. 

The Avro RJ85, flew 150 miles per hour, had failed it's first engine. Another aircraft with a mechanical issue was given priority to land, consequently, causing the flight to be directed into a holding pattern. The pilot had requested  emergency landing from the air traffic controllers, nevertheless, it was of no avail as they were asked to wait a few more minutes. At 9:18, the second and last engine failed.

With fuel exhaustion, negligence by the crew and the Medellin Air Traffic Control to blame, the flight collided into the Cerro Gordo, a mountain with the elevation of 8,500 feet. The collision caused the flight to launch into two pieces. Two hours later, first aid workers from the Colombian Air Force arrived the scene.

Skimming through the site of metal and debris, the rescue yielded only seven survivors. The seventh, Danilo, the first team goalkeeper, died shortly after being taken into surgery. Alan Ruschel, Neto and JaksonFollmann were the surviving players. Upon being questioned, all they said to remember was darkness. JaksonFollman recalled being awake in the middle of the woods, showered in debris and thick layers of fog. He heard groans from his teammates and other members on board. He thought of how helpless he felt upon not being able to help his friends. Neto had dreamt about the plane crashing. Throughout the flight, he carried an uneasy mind, fearing that his dream might turn to reality. His fears were indeed true but he recollected nothing of the tragic incident. After waking up, the first question he asked was if they had won the title. Psychologists advised them not to make him aware of the incident. 

The bigger trauma had fallen to the families of the late players. The very last-minute save by Danilo in the semi-final against San Lorenzo had carried them to the game of their dreams. Danilo's mother wished he'd never saved it. Many families had concluded that it was false news. They clung onto hope but after the news became official, hearts fell. Moreover, the players who waited home and weren't called up bore the disturbing accident at all times. They frequently wondered what would be of their fate if they had been called up. One player merely waited to celebrate his birthday. Along with the sense of relief, they saw their friends and all they ever worked for, gone, within a matter of time.

The Chapecoense football club weren't well-known. They were underdogs. Defying odds and rising through the ranks. They shared a common goal: simply to win the Copa Sundamericana and return home with glory. Only three returned. With Atletico Nacional, the team they were to play against, demanding a default win, Chapecoense were crowned champions and were dubbed by their loving fans as "Eternal Champions".

21st Feb 2019

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