Rescuers have started the grim task of removing bodies from the crash site as it emerged the pilot circled in a desperate attempt to burn off fuel before attempting to land.
The chartered plane, carrying the Brazilian football team, crashed outside Medellin killing 76 and leaving just six survivors – three of them players.
Team members had posed together for a picture in Bolivia ahead of take-off as they were travelling to Colombia for the biggest game in the club’s history, the Copa Sudamerica final. But their journey came to a devastating end when the jet smashed into a hill and broke in two in remote mountains at about 10.15pm.
The Avro RJ85 plane, which was carrying nine crew, suffered power failures while flying through the Antioquia Department on its way from Bolivia. The pilot is believed to have circled around before crash landing in a desperate bid to lose fuel and avoid an explosion on impact.
Just 20 days ago, the same plane had transported the Argentinian football team, including megastars Lionel Messi and Angel Di Maria, to Belo Horizonte in Brazil, where they played Brazil in a World Cup qualifier match.
Heartbreaking images have since emerged online showing devastated players who were not travelling with the Chapecoense squad sitting in the club’s empty changing room.
There are reports that the team had to change their flight at short notice and board the doomed aircraft after Brazilian aviation authorities prevented them from taking a charter plane.
As officials revealed 25 bodies had already been recovered, rescue teams were forced to suspend their operations amid heavy rain in the mountainous region.
The team, from the small city of Chapeco, was in the middle of a fairy tale season. It joined Brazil’s first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it last week to the Copa Sudamericana finals – the equivalent of the UEFA Europa League tournament – after defeating Argentina’s San Lorenzo.
‘May God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests travelling with our delegation’ the club said in a brief statement on its Facebook page. The players looked happy and relaxed as they waited for permission to board.
The mayor of La Ceja, a nearby town, said on local radio, citing firefighters, that at least 25 people had been killed in the crash and about five survivors had been rescued – but few official figures were yet available.
Ambulances ferrying survivors to hospital can only get to within 30 minutes walk of the spot where the plane has crashed near the town of La Unión, it has emerged.
Rescuers on foot are having to stretcher survivors through fog which prevents them from seeing more than a few feet in front of them, local radio reported. They are then put into lorries which drive them another 700 metres to the waiting ambulances.
The pilots and cabin crew on board the plane that crashed were all Bolivian while most of the passengers were Brazilian and about 40 were part of the Chapecoense delegation.
They included 20 players, the manager Caio Junior and four other members of his coaching team including an assistant manager, a personal trainer, a kinesiologist and a masseur who is said to be among the survivors.
The club’s president and vice-president were also on board along with other club managers. The team were only about five minutes from their destination when they crashed.
Among those believed to have perished on the flight to Medellin are dozens of sports journalists and well-known football commentators making their way to report on Chapecoense’s history-making game.
They include a six-strong team from FOX Sports, three reporters from Brazil’s main Globo TV channel, among a total of 21 members of the media.
Among the team from FOX, which was broadcasting the game, were famous commentators Devair Pascovicci and Mario Sergio, as well as respected football journalist Victorino Chermont.
It also emerged Anderson Paixao, the trainer of both Chapecoense and the Brazilian national side, is among those not accounted for.