Who is to blame for the Champecoense plane crash?
Brazilian officials support Champecoense that they were not under any pressure from CONMEBOL to use the Bolivian based LaMia charter company to take the team to Colombia for the Copa Sudamerica final.
The LaMia BAE146 AvroRJ85, as mentioned by aviation experts was at its maximum range on the flight from Santa Cruz, Bolivia when it crashed while approaching Medellin, Colombia, Monday evening, killing 71 of the passengers on board.
In a statement by the Champecoense Futbol Club, it was their decision to use the airline, whose operations were suspended indefinitely by the Bolivian Civil Aviation Authority.
In a news conference at Area Conda, club director Andrei Copetti said, “We want to make it very clear that we did a technical evaluation and LaMia met all of our requirements for international travel.”
He stressed that the quality of the jetliner was one of the major criteria. “The club analyzed our requirements and logistics and we opted for LaMia for technical reasons”, said Copetti. There were some prior reports from Brazil that implied CONMEBOL urged the team to give the travel contract to LaMia.
Another factor that is now being investigated is “pilot pride”. Without any solid conclusions, the only piece of evidence visible was a lack of burning on the wreckage. This can suggest that “fuel starvation” can be a factor.
Fuel starvation happens when fuel is cut off from the engines, causing the engines to stop running. Other factors like a fuel leak, internal icing, failure of fuel pumps or gages, or even crew error.
Captain Miguel Quiroga, who was co-owner of the charter airline, captained the doomed flight. When new details are forthcoming, there will also be questions on the decisions made by the crew. One point of information mentioned by other pilots is “risk taking under pressure”.
Quiroga skipped a regular fuel stop in Bogotá and chose to fly directly to Medellin, whose airport is surrounded by mountainous terrain whose weather is not to predictable.
Gustavo Vargas, Managing Director of LaMia could not explain why Quiroga did not stop in Bogota to refuel, but its known that the captain wanted the members of the Champecoense Futbol team to get to Medellin as soon as possible so they would have time to rest before the match.
In one of the last messages from the plane to the tower, mentioned, “Total electrical failure and no fuel”. This message came after the plane was placed in a holding pattern outside of Medellin Airport. If the tower was contacted earlier of the emergency is it possible that the plane could have reached Medellin.
Aviation protocol says that the flight should have been carrying enough fuel to return to Bogota in an event of a delay or emergency. If investigators do not find evidence of a fuel leak or any other issue, the crash could be declared as pilot error.