Police in Colombia have said 76 people were killed when a plane carrying members of the Brazilian football team Chapecoense crashed in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
Initial reports said there were six survivors, including players and a travelling journalist, but police said one person had died in hospital. The plane was carrying 72 passengers and nine crew members.
Chapecoense were flying to play a Copa Sudamerica finals match against Atlético Nacional on Wednesday in Medellin.
The Brazilian president, Michel Temer, offered his condolences to the friends and families of those on the plane in a series of tweets.
Nesta hora triste que a tragédia se abate sobre dezenas de famílias brasileiras, expresso minha solidariedade.
— Michel Temer (@MichelTemer) November 29, 2016
“I express my solidarity at this sad time when dozens of Brazilian families have been affected by tragedy,” he wrote.
“We are offering every form of help and assistance that we can to the families. The air force and foreign ministry have been put to work. The government will do everything possible to relieve the pain of these friends and families of Brazilian sport and journalism.”
Medellin’s mayor, Federico Gutierrez, described the crash, close to the town of Cerro Gordo, as a “tragedy of huge proportions”.
Bad weather was reported over the crash site and the search was later called off as heavy fog prevented rescue helicopters from landing.
The plane – a British Aerospace 146 short-haul aircraft – is believed to have started its journey in Sao Paulo, Brazil, at 3.35pm local time. It made a stop in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, a bustling economic hub in eastern Bolivia, later that day before setting off for Colombia.
— Martin Mazur (@martinmazur) November 29, 2016
A statement from José Maria Córdova airport in Medellin said that at 10pm a plane travelling from Santa Cruz had declared an emergency because of electrical failures between the municipalities of La Ceja and La Unión in Colombia.
“At the moment we know that the disaster happened in Cerro Gordo in the municipality of La Unión and that there were 72 passengers and nine crew aboard, including the football team Chapocoense Real. There are reported to be six survivors,” the statement read.
Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper said there were at least 22 players from the squad on board. It reported that a 23rd player, whom the newspaper did not name, had been supposed to travel but did not. There were also 22 football journalists from Brazil on the flight.
The survivors were named by the Colombian disaster management agency as Alan Luciano Ruschel, Marcos Danilo Padilha and Jacson Ragnar Follmann. Passengers Rafael Correa Gobbato and Ximena Suarez also survived.
Amanda Ruschel, who is married to Alan Ruschel, the first player to be taken to hospital, said in an Instagram post that her husband was in a stable condition. “Thank God Alan is in the hospital, stable. We are praying for all of those who were not yet rescued and offer our support to all their relatives,” she wrote.
As news of the crash circulated across South America, football fans and clubs paid tribute on Twitter and Facebook.
— Flamengo (@Flamengo) November 29, 2016
Some fans posted messages under what appears to be the last video of Chapecoense’s players before the accident on the club’s Facebook page. “I am from Rio de Janeiro and I am praying for you. May God and Our Lady send their angels to take care of you all,” wrote one.
Chapecoense, based in the city of Chapecó in the state of Santa Catarina, play in Brazil’s premier division, Série A. The club was founded in 1973 and first won promotion to the top flight in 2014.
The Diário Catarinense newspaper, which covers Santa Catarina, said there was confusion and anguish among those linked to the club in Chapecó, a small city of about 200,000 residents.
Cissa Soletti, who works for Chapecoense’s marketing department, told the newspaper it was telling staff to gather at the club’s HQ. The mayor of Chapecó, Luciano Buligon, who was due to fly to Colombia for the match, said he knew nothing beyond the fact there were some survivors.
Nivaldo, a goalkeeper who has been at the club since 2006 but did not travel to Colombia, told the UOL Esporte website that he was woken at 5am on Tuesday morning by a phone call from a worried friend who wanted to know if he was on the flight.
“Everybody is praying that the worst hasn’t happened. I’m bracing for the worst. I don’t want to, I can’t believe it, but you have to be strong.”
Raimundo Colombo, the Santa Catarina governor, issued a statement about the disaster expressing his profound regret. He said Chapecoense had not only been representing Chapecó and the state of Santa Catarina to the rest of Brazil and Latin America, but were also making history as the first Santa Catarina club to contest the final of an international competition.
He said he was in “state of shock” and expressed his solidarity with the families of the players, club officials and journalists who formed the delegation “at what is a time of great pain for the sporting community in Santa Catarina and in Brazil.”
As of last weekend, Chapecoense were ninth in the Brazilian table after 37 games played. They were scheduled to conclude the domestic season against Atlético Mineiro on Sunday.
The Copa Sudamericana is South America’s second-tier club competition, one rung below the Copa Libertadores, the centrepiece of the continent’s football calendar. The winner of the Copa Sudamericana gains automatic entry into next season’s Copa Libertadores.
The final, like each round of the tournament, is a two-legged tie, consisting of a home and an away fixture. Colombia’s Atlético Nacional were due to visit Brazil for the return leg on 7 December.
Chapecoense had already travelled twice to Argentina, beating Independiente and San Lorenzo, and Colombia once, where they lost to Junior 1-0 but progressed on aggregate in the quarter-finals.