The Brazilian football club Chapecoense have made rapid strides since their establishment in 1973 and reached the country’s top flight in 2014 for the first time since 1979. This year, they wrote another illustrious chapter in the club’s history after reaching the final of the Copa Sudamericana – the second tier continental competition in South America – for the first time.
The finals of the Copa Sudamericana are played over two legs, and Chapeoense were scheduled to play the first leg of the final against Colombian club Atletico Nacional away in Medellin. But Chapecoense never reached their destination as their plane, with a total 81 people on board, crashed in a remote area in Colombia. Almost the entire playing and coaching staff of Chapecoense have perished.
The left-back Alan Ruschel, centre-back Neto and reserve goalkeeper Jakson Follmann – who had one of his legs amputated while the other is still in danger – are the only three players to have survived. Plane crashes, unfortunately, have a long history of wrecking football teams. We look at five other such instances.
Manchester United (February 1958)
The Busby Babes – as the Manchester United team were known as at the time after their manager Matt Busby – had a tragic episode when returning from a European Cup fixture against Red Star Belgrade. The plane carrying 44 passenger, including the Red Devils squad, crashed on its third attempt to take off from a slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem Airport.
The crash wiped out the spine of the Manchester United team with several players, including Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman and Duncan Edwards – who survived the crash but died 15 days later in hospital – among others perishing.
Bobby Charlton and Busby were some of the notable survivors. The Scottish manager went on to win the European Cup with his team only ten years after the tragedy.
Torino (May 1949)
Torino in the 1940s were the royalty in Italian football. Led by the mercurial Valentino Mazzola, the Turin outfit went on to establish many records that still stand. So complete was their dominance that they remained only team to have won five successive Scudettos until Juventus matched their record last season.
However, it all ended abruptly and cruelly for Il Grande Torino when a plane carrying the team crashed on to a wall of a church in Superga, killing all 31 on board.
Zambia national team (April 1993)
The Zambia national team were travelling to play Senegal in a 1994 World Cup qualifying fixture but the Zambian Air Force plane carrying the Chipolopolo crashed into the Atlantic Ocean about 500 metres offshore from Libreville, Gabon, killing all 30 people on board.
It brought an end to a promising team. Kalusha Bwalya – the captain and star player of the team – wasn’t on the flight as he had made his own arrangements to reach Senegal from his club PSV Endhoven. Charles Musonda, then at Anderlecht, was another fateful absentee from the fatal crash as an injury had ruled him out of the team. When Zambia won their first major trophy, the 2012 Africa Cup of Nations, they dedicated their win to the fallen heroes.
Allianza Lima (December 1987)
The Peruvian giants Allianza Lima were robbed of one of their most promising generation of players when a plane carrying the squad back home from a league encounter crashed into the Pacific Ocean, killing 43 people on board, with the pilot emerging as the only survivor from the tragedy.
A total 43 players, managers, staff, cheerleaders, and crewmembers lost their lives but Allianza Lima went on to finish their league campaign by fielding retired volunteers and players loaned from other teams.
Denmark football team triallists (July 1960)
A plane chartered to the Danish Football Association was carrying eight players to a final set of trials for selection in the Danish national team for the 1960 Olympics. However, the pilot lost control of the plane, killing all eight players on board.Only the pilot survived but had his leg amputated.
Danish team considered withdrawing from the Rome Olympics but went ahead to secure a silver medal after losing to Yugoslavia in the final.