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Plane carrying football players from Brazil crashes in Colombia

Raul Arboleda, AFP | The wreckage of the LAMIA airlines charter plane carrying members of the Chapecoense Real football team after it crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo on November 29, 2016.

An airplane carrying 81 people, including players from a Brazilian football team heading to Colombia for a regional tournament final, has crashed on its way to Medellin's international airport Tuesday, killing all but six people on board.

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The LAMIA aircraft, carrying 72 passengers and nine crew members, was flying from Brazil via Bolivia to Medellin when it crashed in an area called Cerro Gordo about 50 kilometres from the city, Colombia's second largest.

The plane was transporting the Chapecoense football team from southern Brazil, which was scheduled to play the Copa Sudamericana finals against Atletico Nacional on Wednesday.

Six people, including four players, survived the crash, according to Colombian authorities.

Brazil’s President Michel Temer has declared three days of mourning for the victims of the crash.

‘A tragedy of huge proportions’

Poor weather conditions initially made the crash site accessible only by road, Medellin airport authorities said on Twitter.

The airport later said rescue operations had been suspended because of heavy rain in the area.

"It's a tragedy of huge proportions," Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez told Blu Radio on his way to the site in a mountainous area where the chartered aircraft crashed shortly before midnight local time.

Journalists were urged to stay away from the zone, which has been hit by heavy rains, and stay off the roads to facilitate the entry of ambulances and rescuers.

It is not clear what caused the crash of the aircraft, a British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane, but Colombia had been hit by heavy rains and thunderstorms in recent hours.

Aviation officials said the plane declared an emergency at 10pm local time due to an electrical failure. Other sources suggested the plane may have run out of fuel.

Local radio said the same aircraft transported Argentina's national squad for a match earlier this month in Brazil, and previously had transported Venezuela's national team.

A police commander, Jose Gerardo Acevedo, initially said only five people survived the crash, but Colombian authorities later said a sixth person was found alive, raising hopes there might be other survivors.

"The rescue of a sixth survivor, player Helio Hermito Zampier Neto, who is in the process of being evacuated, is confirmed. The possibility that other people will be found alive has not been ruled out," Colombia's disaster risk management agency said.

One of the survivors was Alan Ruschel, a 27-year-old defender for the Brazilian team, the head of Colombia's civil aeronautics agency, Alfredo Bocanegra, told reporters.

Two other players – Marcos Danilo Padilla and Jackson Follmann – also survived and were taken to hospitals, along with a flight attendant and a journalist.

In a statement on its Facebook page, Chapecoense said, "May God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests travelling with our delegation."

The team said it would refrain from any further statements until it had fully evaluated the extent of the crash.

A video published earlier on the Facebook page showed the team readying for the flight on Monday in Sao Paulo's Guarulhos international airport.

The team, from the small city of Chapeco, joined Brazil's first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it to the Copa Sudamericana finals last week by defeating Argentina's legendary San Lorenzo squad.

Speaking to Brazilian TV station Globo Sport TV, Chapecoense club vice-president Ivan Tozzo said, "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. It is very difficult, a very great tragedy."

(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)

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