This has been a sad week for both the sports and aviation community. The chartered aircraft that crashed in Colombia killed 71 passengers and had 6 survivors. The aircraft owned by LaMia (short for Línea Aérea Mérida Internacional de Aviación) was an Avro RJ85, and was carrying the Brazilian Chapecoense football squad. While statistics indicate that chartered aircrafts are 3-times more likely to crash than airline airplanes, early observations indicate that the crash was caused by pilot error.
Immediate indications show that the Chapecoense air crash was avoidable. Human factors systematically led to the crash. First the flight crew arrived late at the Bolivian city. The flight was supposed to make a fuel stop in Cobija, but couldn’t due to the late departure. This meant they would arrive in Cobija past the airport’s closing time. They then rescheduled the refueling for Bogota.
The flight crew however flew directly to Medellin. The distance between Bolivia and Medellin meant that the aircraft would be close to fuel exhaustion given the weight and balance. International regulations require aircrafts to have enough fuel to their destination plus 30-minutes extra under VFR (Visual Flight Rules) conditions. While IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) conditions dictate that you have to have enough fuel to your destination plus 45-minutes extra.
There were other factors leading to the crash. The flight crew did not declare an emergency or Mayday once they realized that the fuel was close to running out. Declaring an emergency would have given them immediate landing priority. Another aircraft which had declared an emergency was given priority, and LaMia LMI2933 was put in a holding pattern. The aircraft completed two laps around the holding pattern before the fuel ran out. This is when the aircraft crashed. Rescue helicopters were unable to immediately access the crash site due to the dense fog in the area.
Other reports indicate that the aircraft lost electrical power. Its backup battery did not kick-in. This would have meant that the pilots were unable to monitor their instruments under IFR conditions. The backup battery may not have been charged as some chartered aircraft are sometimes parked for a long while when they have no flights.
The investigation will be conducted by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Unit of Colombia’s Unidad Administrativa Especial de Aeronáutica Civil (UAEAC – Special Administrative Unit of Civil Aeronautics). They have requested for assistance from BAE Systems the aircraft manufacturer.