The plane crash that took place in Colombia on November 19 leaving 71 people dead, including most of the Brazilian football Club Chapecoense, has been under investigation to determine the cause of the accident. Authorities informed that the the lack of fuel explains why the tragedy happened.

According to official investigators from Colombia, at the moment when the plane crashed on the ground, there was no sign of fuel remains in the engine, and the authorities are wondering why the plane was flying under those conditions. When the first investigators arrived at the scene on Tuesday, they suspected that the plane, in fact, was lacking fuel at the impact moment, by analyzing the remains and by noticing that there was not an explosion.

Image of the rescue team at the site of the crash. Image Credit: Getty/ Raul Arboleda/AFP

The local news agency published the audio of the final moments of the flight on Wednesday. On the recording, it can be heard the voice of Bolivian pilot Miguel Quiroga explaining to the control tower at Medellin that the plane was experimenting an electrical failure and there was no fuel remaining.

In the last moments of the audio, Quiroga requested urgent permission to land in a different airport. After this request, the plan crashed into a mountainside next to La Union, a city near Medellin, Colombia.

Freddy Bonilla, the secretary of airline security at The Special Administrative Unit of Civil Aeronautics, Colombia’s civil aviation authority, confirmed the veracity of the audio this Thursday. He said that any plane that is going to fly to any location needs to have at least the amount of fuel for 30 minutes of extra flying, in case there is any situation that forces the landing on a different airport or if they need to circle around before arriving the destination.

“When we arrived at the accident site and were able to inspect the remains we could confirm that the aircraft had no fuel at the time of impact,” he said to local news agencies. “In this case, sadly, the aircraft did not have enough fuel to meet the regulations for contingency. One of the theories we are working on is that finding no fuel at the crash site or in the alimentation tubes, the aircraft suffered fell for lack of fuel.”

According to the Executive Chief Officer of LAMIA, the airline responsible for the accident, it was at pilot’s discretion any refueling at the moment of the flight. He explained that weather conditions may affect the fuel spend, but any consideration to be taken must come from the pilot. The aviation secretary Bonilla stated that the weather conditions were appropriate at the time.

Not a common reason for a plane to crash  

Only about 0.5 percent of reported plane crashes in history are related to lack of fuel, according to the U.S Flight Safety Foundation. Investigators can define if is one of two reasons. If it is fuel starvation, which is when there is enough fuel but something is stopping the flow or if it’s fuel exhaustion, like the plane crash in Colombia.

One of the latest incidents of this style was the 1990 crash of the Avianca Boeing 707 near New York. That time, the crash killed 73 people, and curiously, took off from Medellin International Airport. Back in 2005, a Tunisian plane crashed due to lack of fuel and is the latest report on this type of situation.

According to experts from the U.S., the crew has part of the responsibility. They either didn’t manage to refuel enough for the flight or didn’t declare the emergency at the right time. The investigators also have to study how the plane system let the crew knew that this problem was happening, and if this could affect the amount of time the crew took to declared the emergency.

A rare flight all along

The entire flight experience didn’t go as planned since the beginning. The charter plane didn’t have the authorization to pick the football team in Brazil, so the team had to move to Bolivia first in a commercial flight to take the charter. This also made changes in the team’s itinerary. Even the flight was supposed to do a refueling stop at Cobija, Brazil, but the pilot decided not to do it.

According to the Aviation Safety Network, the plane, which is an RJ85, has a travel range of 1,239 miles with maximum payload. The distance between Santa Cruz, Bolivia and Medellin is about 3,000 km or 1,850 miles.

At the time of the accident, there was another flight reporting an emergency to the Medellin control tower. A commercial plane reported a fuel leak and was rerouted and landed first, also because the LAMIA plane didn’t say to the control tower that they also were in an emergency until a few minutes after the crash.

Also, local reporters had wondered why the team had to flight on a charter and not a commercial flight to go to Colombia. The club has stated that LAMIA is known for transporting football clubs mainly. The Argentinian and Venezuelan national football teams traveled with the company earlier this year as well.

A total of 6 persons were able to survive, including three football players, two crew members, and one journalist.

Source: NPR