The chartered aircraft carrying 77 people, which crashed in Colombia killing most of a Brazilian football team earlier this week, may simply have run out of fuel while in the air.
The shocking likelihood has arisen from a leaked audio recording. A pilot can be heard repeatedly requesting permission to land due to electric failure and lack of fuel, the BBC reported. Other reports speak of panic by the co-pilot as the tanks ran dry and many of the passengers leaving their seats in the doomed airliner, despite the danger of doing so.
Only six of the people aboard survived the crash.
Technically, such a thing should not be possible. Passenger aircraft are obliged to carry fuel reserves to cater for changes of plans or adverse weather. If they need more fuel, they land elsewhere to obtain it. That is not unusual.
The plane slammed into a mountainside near the Colombian city of Medellin late on Monday. Early reports say the pilot was circling because another plane, an Airbus, was landing at the airport.
Investigators have not yet announced any cause for the crash and a complete analysis is likely to take months.
The BBC quoted a survivor, flight technician Erwin Tumiri, saying he was still alive because he had followed safety instructions.
“Many stood up and started shouting,” he said. “I put the suitcases between my legs and assumed the brace position.”
The crash is a tragic anomaly in an era when aviation is becoming ever safer, statistically. According to data from the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the 2015 global jet accident rate (measured in hull losses per 1 million flights) was 0.32, which was the equivalent of one major accident for every 3.1 million flights. That is phenomenally safe.
Written by Peter Needham