Colombian authorities searched for answers Tuesday into the crash of a chartered airliner that slammed into the Andes mountains while transporting a Brazilian soccer team whose Cinderella story had won it a spot in the finals of one of South America's most prestigious regional tournaments. All but six of the 77 people on board were killed.
The British Aerospace 146 short-haul plane's recorders were recovered from the wreckage "in perfect condition" and were being analyzed, Colombia's civil aeronautics agency said.
The aircraft, which had departed from Santa Cruz, Bolivia, was transporting the Chapecoense soccer team from southern Brazil for the first leg Wednesday of a two-game Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional of Medellin.
Authorities said seven people were pulled from the wreckage alive but one of them later died. The six survivors include soccer players Alan Ruschel, Jackson Ragnar Follmann and Hélio Hermito Zampier, flight attendant Ximena Suarez, aircraft mechanic Erwin Tumiri, and journalist Rafael Valmorbida, NBC News reported.
Marcos Danilo Padilha, a 31-year-old goalkeeper, was rescued alive but later succumbed to his injuries, officials confirmed.
There were also 21 journalists on board. Rafael Valmorbida of Radio Oeste Capital, a station in the Brazilian city of Chapeco where the team is based, was the only survivor.
The mayor of Chapecó, Luciano Buligon, was on the list of passengers, but at the last minute decided to not board the plane, the mayor's office said, according to Globo.
"What was supposed to be a celebration has turned into a tragedy," Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez said from the search and rescue command center.
The team boarded a commercial BoA, Bolivia's nationally-owned airline, flight bound for Santa Cruz in São Paulo after Brazils Aviation Authority, ANAC, denied a request by Lamia Corp. to charter the Bolivian-owned plane from Brazil to Columbia, according to the Chapeco's mayor Luciano Buligon, OGlobo reported.
In a statement, ANAC said the agency denied the request because, according to Brazilian aviation laws and the Civil Aviation International Convention, the country's accord with Bolivia does not allow for such operations by a third party country.
"ANAC informed the petitioner that the chartered flight must owned and operated by a Brazilian or Columbian airline or company, in accordance with the international agreements," the aviation agency said.
Alfredo Bocanegra, the head of Colombia's aviation authority, said initial reports suggest the aircraft was suffering electrical problems but there was also heavy rainfall at the time of the crash. Investigators were also looking into an account, relayed to rescuers by a surviving flight attendant, that the plane ran out of fuel minutes before its scheduled landing at Jose Maria Cordova airport outside Medellin.
Whatever the cause, the emotional pain of Colombia's deadliest air tragedy in two decades was felt across the soccer world.
The club said in a brief statement on its Facebook page that "may God accompany our athletes, officials, journalists and other guests traveling with our delegation."
South America's soccer federation extended its condolences to the entire Chapecoense community and said its president, Alejandro Dominguez, was on his way to Medellin. All soccer activities were suspended until further notice, the organization said in a statement.
Brazil's top teams offered to loan the small club players next season so they can rebuild following the sudden end to a fairy tale season that saw Chapecoense reach the tournament final just two years after making it into the first division for the first time since the 1970s. "It is the minimum gesture of solidarity that is within our reach," the teams said in a statement.
Sportsmanship also prevailed, with Atletico Nacional asking that the championship title be given to its rival, whose upstart run had electrified soccer-crazed Brazil.
Dozens of rescuers working through the night were initially heartened after pulling three passengers alive from the wreckage. But as the hours passed, and heavy rainfall and low visibility grounded helicopters and complicated efforts to reach the mountainside crash site, the mood soured to the point that authorities had to freeze until dusk what was by then a body recovery operation.
Images broadcast on local television showed three passengers arriving to a local hospital in ambulances on stretchers and covered in blankets connected to an IV.
Colombia officials initially reported 81 passengers were on board the charted plane, but later confirmed four passengers did not board the flight. Reports about the number of survivors have varied because of confusion amid the emergency.
Local radio said the same aircraft transported Argentina's national squad for a match earlier this month in Brazil, and previously had transported Venezuela's national team.
British Aerospace, which is now known as BAE Systems, says that the first 146-model plane took off in 1981 and that just under 400 — including the successor Avro RJ — were built in total in the U.K. through 2003. It says around 220 of are still in service in a variety of roles, including aerial firefighting and overnight freight services.
A video published on the team's Facebook page showed the team readying for the flight earlier Monday in Sao Paulo's Guarulhos international airport.
The team, from the small city of Chapeco, was in the middle of a fairy tale season. It joined Brazil's first division in 2014 for the first time since the 1970s and made it last week to the Copa Sudamericana finals — the equivalent of the UEFA Europa League tournament — after defeating two of Argentina's fiercest squads, San Lorenzo and Independiente, as well as Colombia's Junior.
"This morning I said goodbye to them and they told me they were going after the dream, turning that dream into reality," Chapecoense board member told TV Globo. "The dream was over early this morning."
The team is so modest that its 22,000-seat arena was ruled by tournament organizers too small to host the final match, which was instead moved to a stadium 300 miles (480 kilometers) to the north in the city of Curitiba.
"This is unbelievable, I am walking on the grass of the stadium and I feel like I am floating," Andrei Copetti, a team spokesman, told The Associated Press. "No one understands how a story that was so amazing could suffer such a devastating reversal. For many people here reality has still not struck."
The Colombian team that was scheduled to play the Chapecoense team in a South American championship said Tuesday it's offering the title to the rivals.
Medellin-based Atletico Nacional said Chapecoense should receive the title in recognition of the team's great loss, and as a tribute to the players who died.