Saturday, December 3, 2016

Team Tragedies


Discussions at the office about the Brazilian air crash tragedy raised other teams destroyed or affected by disasters. Perhaps the best known are the stories of the Andes survivors and that of the Manchester United crash. A brief look at those events, and some others . . . 

Brazil Chapecoense:

Associação Chapecoense de Futebol, commonly known as Chapecoense and whose acronym is ACF, is a Brazilian football club, based in the city of Chapecó in the state of Santa Catarina. The club was founded in 1973 and won its first state title in 1977. The club has won five state championships, the last in 2016. It has been referred to as “the fairytale club” in that in a league where it is a small club anongst many bigger and wealthier clubs, it rose to Brazil's top division, Série A, for the first time in 2014. 

On November 28, 2016, the team travelled to Colombia to play the first leg of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana final against Atlético Nacional, a match that was seen as the biggest in the history of the club. As the charter flight carrying the team approached José María Córdova International Airport near Medellín, Colombia, the plane crashed, killing 71 people. There were 6 survivors. A total of 43 of the 71 killed were part of the Chapeconse delegation (19 players, 17 club staff members, 7 people from the board of directors and 4 Fox Sports Brazil journalists), making it the deadliest disaster for a single team ever recorded. 

Following the crash, Atlético Nacional conceded the match, making Chapecoense champions of the Sudamerica Cup. Five of Brazil’s top clubs have also offered to loan Chapecoense players so that it could playing.

It has been reported that the pilot of the crashed LaMia plane the Chapecoense team to Colombia chose not to stop for a planned refuelling, in violation of air safety rules, to save time due to an earlier delay. Having filled the tanks to maximum, thereby having just enough fuel to reach the intended airport destination, the plane’s fuel ran out after it was kept circling because of an emergency involving another plane.

The last reported picture of the Chapecoense Real football team prior to the plane crash.

The Andes Survivors:

In 1972 a chartered Uruguayan Air Force plane was carrying the Old Christians Club rugby union team from Montevideo, Uruguay, to play a match in Santiago, Chile. Whilst flying over the Andes, the aircraft crashed. With both wings sheared off from hitting peaks, the fuselage hit the ground and slid down a steep mountain slope before finally coming to rest in a snow bank. 

From Wikipedia:
Of the 45 people on the aircraft, 12 died in the crash or shortly thereafter; another five had died by the next morning, and one more succumbed to injuries on the eighth day. The remaining 27 faced severe difficulties in surviving in the freezing mountains at such a high altitude. Many had suffered injuries from the crash, including broken legs from the aircraft's seats piling together. The survivors lacked equipment such as cold-weather clothing and footwear suitable for the area, mountaineering goggles to prevent snow blindness (although one of the eventual survivors, 24-year-old Adolfo "Fito" Strauch, devised a couple of sunglasses by using the sun visors in the pilot's cabin which helped protect their eyes from the sun). They lacked any kind of medical supplies, and the death of Dr. Francisco Nicola left a first and a second year medical student who had survived the crash in charge to improvise splints and braces with salvaged parts of what remained of the aircraft.
Because the aircraft was white, it blended into the snow and was unable to be seen from the air. The survivors heard on a radio that after 11 days, the search had been called off.

The survivors were faced with death by starvation and cold.

In his 2006 book, Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home, Nando Parrado wrote:
“At high altitude, the body's caloric needs are astronomical ... we were starving in earnest, with no hope of finding food, but our hunger soon grew so voracious that we searched anyway ...again and again we scoured the fuselage in search of crumbs and morsels. We tried to eat strips of leather torn from pieces of luggage, though we knew that the chemicals they'd been treated with would do us more harm than good. We ripped open seat cushions hoping to find straw, but found only inedible upholstery foam ... Again and again I came to the same conclusion: unless we wanted to eat the clothes we were wearing, there was nothing here but aluminum, plastic, ice, and rock.”
Most of the passengers were classmates or personal friends, all were Catholic. Eventually they rationalised that cannibalising the bodies of the dead would not be against the laws of the Church. Thereafter they lived off the bodies of the dead, preserved in the snow.

16 days after the crash an avalanche killed eight of the survivors, including the last female survivor. 

When even the bodies of the dead began running out, it was determined that the strongest survivors should seek to travel down off the mountains and find help. 72 days after the crash Nando Parrado and Dr. Canessa made their way down the mountain and finally met Chilean Sergio Catalán who gave them food and then alerted authorities. The other 14 survivors were rescued on 23 December 1972, more than two months after the crash. In South America the matter is known as The Miracle in the Andes.

Passengers shelter near the tail of the Uruguayan plane which hit the mountains.

Survivors of the crash wave to rescue helicopters after their 72-day ordeal

Fernando (Nando) Parrado (left) and Roberto Canessa with Chilean carrier Sergio Catalan (back, in hat) in 1972

The Manchester United Crash:

In 1958 a British European Airways flight crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport, West Germany. On the plane was the Manchester United football team, returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (now Serbia), along with supporters and journalists. Twenty of the 44 on the aircraft died at the scene, three more died in hospital.

It was later established that the crash was caused by slush on the runway, which slowed the plane too much to take off. 

How times have changed:
On 6 February 2008, the England national football team took on Switzerland at Wembley Stadium. Before the game, pictures of the players who lost their lives at Munich were displayed on big screens, and England players wore black armband. The minute’s silence was abandoned by the referee after 30 seconds because of whistles and cat-calls.

(Is it just me who thinks the ad to the left may have been a tad insensitive next to the main story?)


More sporting team tragedies:


A military aircraft carrying Zambia's national soccer team to a World Cup qualifying match crashed into the sea. All 25 passengers and five crew members were killed, including 18 players, as well as the team coach and support staff. A Gabonese official investigation into the accident concluded that the pilot had shut down the wrong engine after a fire.


A Yak-42 passenger jet crashes seconds after takeoff, killing 44 out of the 45 on board, the sole survivor being the flight engineer. Amongst the dead is the entire Russian ice hockey team Lokomotiv, plus players and coaches, who were on the way to a match in the Belarussian capital of Minsk. It was established that the pilots had used falsified documents to obtain permission to fly the aircraft, and that they lacked the training necessary to fly the Yak-42. In addition, the co-pilot had undergone treatment for a nerve disease and was forbidden to fly. Investigators say he did not feel his foot on the brake, leading to the crash and that he had applied the brake before raising the nosewheel.


A soccer match in the eastern part of the Congo ended in tragedy when lightning struck an entire team of 11 men. Thirty more people received burns. The freak accident occurred due to the metal spikes in their shoes. Even more strange, the opposing team was left unharmed, creating speculation that witchcraft caused the event.


In February 1961, the entire 18-member US Figure Skating team was killed in a plane crash in Berg-Kampenhout, Belgium. The team was on its way to the 1961 World Figure Skating Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia.

Among those killed in the crash was 16-year-old Laurence Owen, who had won the US Figure Skating Championship the previous month. Bradley Long, the 1961 U.S. men's champion, also perished in the crash, as did Maribel Owen (Laurence's sister) and Dudley Richards, the 1961 pairs champions, and Diane Sherbloom and Larry Pierce, the 1961 ice dancing champions. In addition to the skaters, 16 people accompanying them, including family, friends, coaches and officials, were killed. The other 38 passengers and crew aboard Sabena Flight 548, which left New York on the night of February 14, also died when the plane went down around 10 a.m. in clear weather while attempting to make a scheduled stopover landing at the Belgian National Airport in Brussels.

Prior to the crash, the UShad won the men's gold medal at every Olympics since 1948 (when Dick Button became the first American man to do so), while US women had claimed Olympic gold in 1956 and 1960. After the crash, an American woman (Peggy Fleming) would not capture Olympic gold until 1968, and a US man (Scott Hamilton) would not do so until 1984.


The above figure skatingvteam tragedy was the worst air disaster involving an American sports team until November 1970, when 37 players on the Marshall University football team were killed in a plane crash in West Virginia.

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