Monday night an Avro RJ85 traveling from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, to Medellin, Colombia, crashed shortly before landing. The flight was being operated by Lamia, a small charter airline with a single plane. 71 of the 77 people on the flight died. The plane was carrying a Brazilian soccer team, which was heading to the South American Cup Finals, after having performed better than ever before.
— Flightradar24 (@flightradar24) November 29, 2016
It was pretty apparent that the plane was low on fuel, both based on the pilot declaring an emergency, and also based on the lack of fire at the crash site.
Well, more details are now starting to emerge about the incident, and they’re disturbing. Very disturbing. They show just how preventable this horrible tragedy was. The Economist has a great rundown of the facts, but to consolidate them even further:
- The flight from Santa Cruz to Medellin covers a distance of 2,960km, while the range of the Avro RJ85 is 2,965km
- The black box recording confirms that the pilot could be heard saying they were running out of fuel, and authorities have confirmed that the plane had no fuel when it crashed
How on earth could a plane try to operate a flight beyond its range?!? As is often the case with these accidents, it seems to be a combination of many unfortunate factors:
- Before taking Lamia from Santa Cruz, the team had taken a commercial flight from Sao Paulo to Santa Cruz, which was delayed by an hour
- Lamia had planned on making a refueling stop in Cobija, Bolivia, but that airport shuts down at night, so that was no longer possible due to the delay of the previous flight
- When the plane departed Santa Cruz, the ground staff raised concerns about the plane flying nonstop, though the pilot made “verbal guarantees” that the plane had enough fuel for the trip
- The Lamia pilot requested priority to land in Medellin, though another plane had a fuel leak, so got priority (requesting priority is different than declaring an emergency)
- The Lamia pilot only declared an emergency after the plane was out of fuel and descending
- The pilot was a co-owner of the airline, which may be why he was so motivated to operate the flight as scheduled; he may have been concerned that if they didn’t get the team where they needed to be on-time, it could cost them future business, and also concerned that if they declared an emergency, it could raise red flags with authorities about why they tried to operate a flight beyond the plane’s range
- Lamia’s operating license has now been suspended (though their only plane crashed, so that may be a moot point)
More details will no doubt emerge about the incident over the coming days, but the facts at least seem clear. The plane tried to operate a nonstop flight beyond its range, which is mind-boggling and beyond reckless. Over the coming days I suspect we’ll learn more details surrounding the circumstances of this situation.
All crashes are tragic, but this one is especially tragic, since it seems so preventable.