Bolivian authorities on Thursday suspended the license of LAMIA Bolivia, a charter airline whose plane crashed in Colombia this week after apparently running out of fuel, killing 71 people and wiping out a Brazilian soccer team on its way to a regional cup final.
Monday night’s disaster sent shock waves across the global soccer community and plunged Brazil, Latin America’s largest nation, into mourning. The small Chapecoense team was traveling on a charter flight operated by airline LAMIA Bolivia to the biggest game in its history, the final of the Copa Sudamericana.
Investigators combing the crash site on a wooded hillside outside of Medellin found no traces of fuel in the wreckage of the BAe 146 made by Britain’s BAE Systems Plc, signaling that the crash may have resulted from lack of fuel.
International flight regulations require aircraft to carry enough reserve fuel to fly for 30 minutes after reaching their destination.
“In this case, sadly, the aircraft did not have enough fuel to meet the regulations for contingency,” said Freddy Bonilla, secretary of airline security at Colombia’s aviation authority.
Bolivian authorities said they were suspending LAMIA’s operating license and replacing the management of its aviation authority to ensure a transparent investigation. It said that neither decision implied wrongdoing.
Local media in Brazil, citing an internal document, reported an official at the Bolivian aviation agency called Celia Castedo raised concerns about LAMIA’s flight plan. The official urged the airline to come up with an alternative route because the 4 hour and 22 minute journey was the same length as the plane’s maximum flight range. The reports said the official, who could not be reached by Reuters for comment, did not have the power to stop the flight.
A Colombian civil aviation document seen by Reuters confirmed the flight time was set to be 4 hours and 22 minutes.
Medellin air traffic controllers asked the LAMIA pilot to wait while another flight made an emergency landing. Details on the length of the wait and problems with the other flight were not immediately available.
Air traffic controller Yaneth Molina, who received the distress call, said in a letter written to colleagues that she had received death threats following the crash.
“I did all that was humanly possible and technically necessary to preserve the lives of the passengers, but unfortunately my efforts weren’t enough,” Molina wrote in her letter, which was later released to the press.
A crackling recording obtained by Colombian media of Bolivian pilot Miguel Quiroga’s final words showed he told the control tower at Medellin’s airport that the plane was “in total failure, total electrical failure, without fuel.”
He requested urgent permission to land, and then the audio went silent.
LAMIA Chief Executive Officer Gustavo Vargas on Wednesday said the plane had been correctly inspected before departure and should have had enough fuel for about 4-1/2 hours. In such situations, it is at the pilot’s discretion whether to refuel, Vargas said.
Only 0.5 percent of accidents on record were blamed on low fuel, according to the U.S.-based Flight Safety Foundation.
Source : Reuters