CHAPECO, Brazil – Thousands of people are paying tribute Wednesday in this southern Brazilian city to 71 people who died when a charter flight carrying members of the Chapecoense soccer team and other passengers crashed in Colombia one year ago.
A large crowd began gathering Tuesday evening at Arena Conda, Chapecoense’s stadium, to pay tribute to the victims and then walked 0.7 kilometers (just under a half-mile) to the Santo Antonio Cathedral for an emotional ceremony.
Inside the cathedral, journalist Rafael Henzel, one of the six survivors of the crash, said a prayer and received an ovation from those in attendance. The images of the victims were shown on a giant screen, while 71 candles were lit on the altar.
The bells of the Chapeco cathedral rang for several minutes starting at 1.15 am local time, the time of the crash, as many in attendance sobbed or voiced prayers.
Later, the Chapecoense hymn sounded and hundreds of people who had been unable to enter the cathedral began singing “Vamos, vamos Chape,” the team’s fight song.
The mourners then held an all-day vigil that will end with a 6.30 pm Mass to mark the first anniversary of the plane crash.
The tragedy occurred outside the northwestern city of Medellin, Colombia, on the night of Nov. 28, 2016, just days before Chapecoense – a club that had emerged from obscurity to become one of South America’s best – was to play the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final against local side Atletico Nacional.
The Copa Sudamericana is South American soccer’s second-most prestigious club competition after the Copa Libertadores.
The flight operated by Bolivian charter airline LaMia, which had departed from the eastern Bolivian city of Santa Cruz with 73 passengers and four crew on board, ran out of fuel just a few kilometers (miles) from its final destination and crashed into a mountainside.
Soccer players, coaches, journalists and crew members were among the 71 fatalities.
Three Chapecoense players survived, including one who has already resumed his soccer career and another who plans to do so next year.
A third player who survived the crash had to have part of his right leg amputated.