Bolivia suspends airline as Colombian crash probe points to lack of fuel

Thu Dec 1, 2016 7:51pm EST
 
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By Daniel Ramos and Fredy Builes

LA PAZ/MEDELLIN, Colombia (Reuters) - Bolivian authorities on Thursday suspended the license of a tiny charter airline whose plane crashed in Colombia this week after apparently running out of fuel, killing 71 people and wiping out a Brazilian soccer team on its way to a regional cup final.

Monday night's disaster sent shock waves across the global soccer community and plunged Brazil, Latin America's largest nation, into mourning. The small Chapecoense team was traveling on a charter flight operated by airline LAMIA Bolivia to the biggest game in its history, the final of the Copa Sudamericana.

Investigators combing the crash site on a wooded hillside outside of Medellin found no traces of fuel in the wreckage of the BAe 146 made by Britain's BAE Systems Plc, signaling that the crash may have resulted from lack of fuel.

International flight regulations require aircraft to carry enough reserve fuel to fly for 30 minutes after reaching their destination.

"In this case, sadly, the aircraft did not have enough fuel to meet the regulations for contingency," said Freddy Bonilla, secretary of airline security at Colombia's aviation authority.

Bolivian authorities said they were suspending LAMIA's operating license and replacing the management of its aviation authority to ensure a transparent investigation. It said that neither decision implied wrongdoing.

Local media in Brazil, citing an internal document, reported an official at the Bolivian aviation agency called Celia Castedo raised concerns about LAMIA's flight plan. The official urged the airline to come up with an alternative route because the 4 hour and 22 minute journey was the same length as the plane's maximum flight range. The reports said the official, who could not be reached by Reuters for comment, did not have the power to stop the flight.

A Colombian civil aviation document seen by Reuters confirmed the flight time was set to be 4 hours and 22 minutes.   Continued...

 
Rescue crews work in the wreckage from a plane that crashed into Colombian jungle with Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense onboard near Medellin, Colombia, November 29, 2016. REUTERS/Fredy Builes