Chapecoense and other sporting aviation disasters

In the early hours of Nov 29th, Lamia flight 2933 carrying 77 people, including the Chapecoense football team, crashed a few miles south of Medellin, northern Columbia.

The team were due to play in the final of the Copa Sudamericana, against Medellin team Atletico Nacional. Just six people survived and subsequently, the football world was plunged into mourning.

The saddest part about the crash, aside from all lives lost, is that such an incident is not unique in sporting, or even in footballing history. In this piece, we examine other sporting aviation disasters.

1) Munich air disaster

Perhaps the most well-known air crash involving a sports team occurred on February 6th 1958.

British European Airways flight 609, taking Matt Busby’s Manchester United team back to England after a triumph away at Red Star Belgrade, overshot the slush-covered runway at Munich-Riem airport, West Germany, where it had stopped for refuelling.

It was the third takeoff attempt after both pilots expressed dissatisfaction at the aircraft’s left engine. Of 43 passengers on board, 21 were killed, including seven Manchester United players. Manager Busby was severely injured and twice given last rites, but recovered and eventually rebuilt the team.

With Busby at the helm, United won the FA Cup four years later, the league title in 1965 and 1967 and then – a decade after the Munich crash – their first European Cup.

2) Lokomotiv Yaroslavl plane crash

On September 7th 2011, Yak-service flight 9633 crashed near the city of Yaroslavl in Russia on its way to Minsk, carrying 45 passengers; of which, 43 died.

On board were the Russian ice hockey team Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, and every player but one on their roster lost his life. Forward Maxim Zyuzyakin, who was not on the flight, later became captain and embodied the team’s rejuvenation.

The crash happened shortly after departure and was blamed on human error, when the captain braked during takeoff, causing a stall.

3) Cubana flight 455

Cubana de Aviacion flight 455 from Barbados to Jamaica, carrying 68 passengers and the Cuban national fencing team, was bombed midflight on June 11th 1976. Two C4 explosives were used by terrorists in an incident found to be orchestrated by Orlando Bosch Avila.

CORU, his anti-Castro terror group had been waging a violent campaign against Caribbean neighbours that had developed strong links with the Cuban regime. Everybody on board died in the disaster.

A declassified FBI document dated October 21, 1976, states that CORU “was responsible for the bombing of the Cubana Airlines DC-8 on October 6, 1976… because CORU was at war with the Fidel Castro regime.”

4) 1972 Andes flight disaster

A chartered flight carrying 45 passengers and the Uruguayan Old Christian rugby union team crashed into the Andes mountains on October 13th 1972.

The incident was a controlled flight into terrain, in which both wings clipped mountain peaks and holes were ripped in the fuselage.

Upon impact, five passengers died, with some survivors perishing in the ensuing days due to avalanches and others resorting to cannibalism.

Sixteen people survived the ordeal, including six of rugby team. The disaster was the basis for the 1993 film Alive and in the Hispanic world is referred to as the ‘Miracle of the Andes’.

5) LOT flight 7

On 14th March 1980, 87 passengers on board LOT flight 007, which included the US amateur boxing team, crashed in the Polish capital on its way from JFK to Warsaw Frederic Chopin airport.

The crash was caused by a faulty engine and subsequent loss of flight controls, and killed everybody on board.

Post-crash investigations revealed that many of the boxers on board, unlike other sleeping passengers, knew that they were about to crash, as examinations by doctors showed tears to muscles and tendons in their arms, suggesting that they were braced upon impact.

6) Air Indiana flight 216

On December 13th 1977, an Air Indiana DC-3 carrying the University of Evansville basketball team to Nashville to play the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders crashed shortly after takeoff at Evansville regional airport.

Fourteen members of the team perished in the incident alongside 12 other passengers.

The crash was blamed on pilot error, with an overloaded baggage compartment ‘changing the aircraft’s centre of gravity to the back end’ combining with a locked rudder and aileron, meaning that the aeroplane could not get the lift necessary to keep it airborne.

The only surviving member of the team, who did not travel that day, was killed in a car accident just weeks later. A monument was erected outside the university called the ‘weeping basketball’.