Radio soccer announcer Rafael Henzel speaks during a interview in Chapeco, Brazil, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. Henzel is one of the six passengers that survived in the Chapecoense air crash, which killed 71 people, including 19 players of the Chapecoense soccer team, on Nov.28. Photo:AP
Rafael Henzel has been the voice of Champecoense’s futbol team since 2012. That voice was almost silenced after the plane crash outside of Medellin, Colombia killed all but six passengers of the doomed flight back in late November 2016.
After 20 days in the hospital with several broken ribs, scars including one over his right eye, and even a battle with pneumonia, Henzel is back working at the radio station.
His first time back at Arena Conda was bittersweet. “The stairway at the Arena Conda is very steep, but I have extra motivation to be in that stadium again and see players and fans wearing our shirt,” said Henzel, “it won’t be the stairway that will stop me.”
He looks at his return to the microphone against Brazilian league champion Palmieras as an upgrade to “Rafael 2.0”. Although his left foot is still in a cast, Henzel does not see that as an obstacle.
He had vivid memories of the crash that took the lives of his friends and colleagues. “When I woke up at the crash site, I became aware of what happened,” he said “Initially, I thought I was dreaming but then, shortly after, you start to realize that the plane had crashed.
All three players who survived the crash hope to play again in one form or another. Neto, Champecoense’s defender who was in the wreckage for more than 10 hours, just recently took his first steps without any support.
His visit to the club would be an inspiration to the new players in a season that will be pretty busy defending the Santa Catarina state league title, keeping the team in Brazil’s first division and playing for the first time in Copa Libertadores, which is South America’s top tournament.
Winger Alan Rushel is poised for a return within six months, but doctors wont confirm that timetable. “I will do all that I can to play again, and I will be patient to get there,” said Rushel.
Goalie Follmann will not play for the team again because of having his right leg amputated and still has upcoming surgeries to deal with. He is considering becoming a Paralympian and a member of the Champecoense staff.