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Chapecoense Club Tragedy Brings Back Memories of Plane Crash with Peruvian Football Team, Alianza Lima

Hinchada de Alianza Lima. Imagen de Flickr del usuario Ver en vivo En Directo (CC BY-SA 2.0).

Alianza Lima Football Club fans. Image on Flickr by user Ver en vivo En Directo (CC BY-SA 2.0).

From now on, November 28, 2016 will be a sad day for football and for sports as a whole. On that day, the plane carrying players from the Brazilian football club Chapecoense, journalists and nine crew members, crashed during the night near José María Córdova Airport in Medellin, Colombia.

The crash resulted in 71 fatalities and six survivors.

The West Greens — as Chapecoense is known — were heading to Medellín for a match against local team Atlético Nacional for the first leg of South American Cup final, scheduled to be held on Wednesday, November 30. It would have been the culmination of a journey that started on 2009 in Serie D (or Braziliian football's fourth division), went on through the third and second division, until finally, in 2014, the team made its way into the Brasileirão, Brazilian Championship Serie A.

The news made people remember other accidents suffered by sport clubs. Peruvian team Alianza Lima is sadly featured in the tragic list after it lost a whole generation almost 29 years ago, on December 8, 1987, when the Fokker aircraft beloging to Peru's Navy that was taking them back to Lima, plunged into the sea just a few kilometers away from landing at Lima's Jorge Chávez International Airport. The team was returning from the city of Pucallpa where it had beaten local team, Deportivo Pucallpa, for the national tournament:

Fue un martes 8 de diciembre de 1987, cuando el fútbol peruano, y en especial, la familia del club Alianza Lima, uno de los equipos de fútbol más popular del Perú, sufrió la más terrible tragedia de su historia: el accidente aéreo en el que perecieron 43 personas, entre ellas, todos los jugadores de aquel plantel. [El] Accidente […] sería recordado simplemente como “La tragedia del Fokker F-27.
[…]
El capitán encargado de pilotar la aeronave era el Teniente Primero Edilberto Villar Medina, [fue el] único sobreviviente de la tragedia.

It was on a Tuesday, December 8, 1987, when Peruvian football, and especially the Alianza Lima Club family — one of the most popular Peruvian teams — suffered the most terrible tragedy of its history: the air crash that killed 43 people, among them all the team players. [The] accident […] would be remembered simply as ‘The tragedy of Fokker F-27′.
[…]
The officer in charge of steering the plane was First Lieutenant Edilberto Villar Medina, [he was the] only survivor of the tragedy.

The website Peru30 gives an explanation of what had possibly caused the crash:

¿Por qué razón el piltoto [sic] no aterrizó luego de que la gente del aeropuerto le confirmó que los trenes de aterrizaje habían descendido? Según parece, el piloto temió que la razón de que no se encendían las luces de confirmación de descenso de los trenes fuera que estos pese a haber bajado no estuvieran asegurados […] lo que podría producir que las llantas cedan al momento de aterrizar causando que el avión choque contra el suelo con consecuencias gravísimas. El piltoto no quizo [sic] correr ese riesgo motivando el pedido de un nuevo vuelo rasante para que le confirmen si los trenes estaban asegurados.

Why didn't the pilot land after the airport staff confirmed that the landing gear was down? Apparently, the pilot suspected the reason the landing gear confirmation lights didn't turn on was that the wheels were down but not secured […], which could cause the wheels to collapse at landing; thus, the plane could crash against the floor with very serious consequences. The pilot didn't want to take any chances, so he requested another low flight in order to have confirmation that the gear was secured.

A series of conspiracies and half-truths surrounded the tragedy. In 2014, the movie F-27 was released — on one hand, it tells the story of the plane crash; on the other, it makes reference to the aura of mystery stemming from the secrecy with which the case was handled.

In December 1987, a team touched glory. The tragedy a whole country grieved deserves to be told.

Meanwhile, the blog Sin Sentido remembered some of the theories around the accident:

[…] el secretismo que la Marina, dueña de la aeronave, impuso en las labores de búsqueda y rescate de las víctimas provocó que en torno al accidente se tejieran toda suerte de conjeturas e hipótesis, ya que nunca hubo una explicación oficial del episodio. […] las hipótesis adquirieran la condición de mitos y leyendas urbanas que persisten hasta el día de hoy.

“Yo lo tengo claro: el avión traía droga y los marinos se bajaron el avión. Tengo indicios […]”.

“Se dijo que el doctor Orestes Rodríguez (médico del equipo) tenía un orificio de bala en la nuca al igual que varios jugadores. Seguro el avión traía coca y lo estaban esperando, por eso cuando quiso dar la vuelta lo derribaron; eso fue lo que sucedió” […]

[…] the secrecy of the Peruvian Navy, owner of the aircraft, imposed on the search and victim rescue efforts, fed all sorts of conjecture and hypothesis around the accident, as there was never an official version of the incident. […] The hypothesis became myths and urban legends that last until today.

To me, it's clear: the plane was carrying drugs, and the Navy took the plane down. I have clues […].

It was said doctor Orestes Rodríguez (team physician) had a gunshot wound in the back of his neck, as well as some of the players. Most likely, the plane was transporting cocaine and someone was waiting for it; that's why, when the plane turned around, it was shot down; that's what happened […].

Nothing like that was ever confirmed.

What was indeed confirmed is that, once again, tragedies bring even rivals together. In 1987, Alianza Lima was able to proceed in the tournament thanks to Chilean football club Colo Colo, which transferred four of its players to the Peruvian club to rearm its team, as one of those transferred players, goalkeeper José Letelier, remembered after the sad news about Chapecoense club broke:

[…] fuimos parte de un grupo de Alianza en un momento muy complicado […] un momento bastante duro, entrar a un camarín donde no conocías a nadie y que estaba muy golpeado por lo ocurrido. Esa vez murió todo el equipo, dirigentes, periodistas, llegamos a un camarín muerto, nadie se dirigía la palabra, fue como invadir la privacidad del lugar, no fue fácil.

[…] we were part of an Alianza group at a very difficult time […] a very tough moment, to get into a locker room where you didn't know anybody and where everybody was shocked by the latest events. Back then, a whole team died; managers, journalists…we arrived to a dead locker room…no one talked to each other; it was like invading a place's privacy; it wasn't easy.

The crash that affected Chapecoense Club reminded some Twitter users of the 1987 accident with Alianza Lima Club, a few days away from the 29th anniversary of the Fokker F-27 tragedy:

Good morning, Tromes! (from the newspaper's name, a reference to its readers) Today's front page: ‘Tragedy just like Alianza's Fokker’.

Chapecoense tragedy reminds us what happened in 1987 with Alianza Lima Fokker.

This is just as tragic as what happened to the Fokker plane where an Alianza team also passed away. God took them very early.

Such regrettable events generate the deepest sympathies that transcend sport team loyalties. May they rest in peace.

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