Colombian Plane Crash Among Largest Catastrophes for Journalists

The airplane carrying a Brazilian soccer team that crashed near Medellín, Colombia, on Monday included at least 21 journalists, among the largest number to ever die in any one incident.

The chartered plane, which left from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, lost radar contact during an evening flight, killing 75 people, the Associated Press reported. Six people survived the crash, including one journalist, three members of the soccer team, Chapecoense, and two flight attendants. The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane was headed to Medellín for a match between the team, from the small southern Brazil city of Chapecó, and Atlético Nacional of Medellín.  

Among the journalists to die in the crash were six employees of Fox Sports Brazil, employees of Brazil's Globo television network as well as five reporters from the country's RBS newspaper chain, according to Marcelo Rech, president of the Brazilian Newspaper Association and editorial vice president of RBS, which includes four publications in the state of Santa Catarina, where Chapecó in located. 

"It is a huge tragedy for the press -- and my task right now will be to be with our newsrooms in Santa Catarina in such a emotional moment," Rech said via email. "The colleagues who died in Colombia -- among them five dear colleagues of RBS Group -- combined their talent with one of the most glorious moments of Santa Catarina state football and the passion to inform. The professionals who lost their lives in the Colombian mountains leave their families, friends and colleagues with everlasting admiration and respect."

In a statement, the Committee to Protect Journalists said: "The journalists came from several organizations, including Fox and Globo, and a handful of FM and AM radio stations in South America. Our deepest condolences go to our colleagues in Brazil, their friends and families, who have lost so much in this tragedy."

Carlos Lauria, CPJ's senior program coordinator for the Americas, said the committee doesn't track incidents such as plane accidents involving journalists but that the Medellin crash "is really a high number." 

For journalists, the Medellín plane accident may have only been surpassed by the 2009 Maguindano massacre in the Philippines in which 57 people, including 32 members of the country's media, were killed. Yet in Maguindano, journalists were targeted whereas the Medellin crash was reportedly an accident. 

As for athletes, the Colombian crash recalled the 1958 accident known as the Munich Air Disaster, in which 11 Manchester United players and coaches were among the 23 that died shortly after taking off from Munich-Riem Airport. In 1970, a DC-9 carrying 37 Marshall University football players crashed in West Virginia, killing all 75 passengers and crew members, and in 1977 in southern Indiana, a plane carrying 14 members of the University of Evansville basketball team died in a crash shortly after takeoff along with 15 others on board.

In Brazil, where soccer is the national sport and a societal obsession, the government declared three days of mourning. Some 20 members of the Chapecoense team, competing in its most prestigious match ever, the first leg of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana finals, died in the accident. For a team that had long played in the country's smaller leagues before returning to top-flight Série A in 2014, the trip to Medellín counted as "the club's most important to date," manager Cadu Gaúcho, 36, said in a video posted on the team's Facebook site shortly before boarding.

Among the survivors was Chapecoense defender Alan Ruschel, whom the AP said suffered spinal injuries. Two goaltenders, Danilo and Jackson Follmann, also reportedly survived the crash.

"It's terribly tragic for people both in Brazil as well as Colombia," said Víctor Javier Solano, an anchor for Univision in New York. "Many journalists often travel with a soccer team, and because this was such a big event for this team in particular, the numbers are very high. A very sad day for all of Latin America."

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