Juan Sebastian Upegui was a co-pilot of a commercial aircraft that flew near the doomed plane and heard the conversation between the control tower at Medellin’s Jose Maria Cordova International Airport and the crew of the Bolivian LaMia Airlines plane.
Upegui told a local radio station that the LaMia’s crew requested priority landing and indicated the plane was experiencing fuel problems. “Let us proceed, let us proceed, we have fuel problems,” he quoted the LaMia pilot as saying while the plane rapidly descended.
“When the plane began a steep descent, then they declared an emergency,” according to Upegui, who added that he saw the plane’s lights flicker.
At that point the control tower gave the Bolivian airline priority. The LaMia pilot then said the plane was experiencing a total electrical failure.
“Help, help, yelled the pilot while we remained silent overhearing the communication on the radio frequency and then there was total silence,” Upegui said. “The lady’s voice in the control tower cracked with emotion and then we all started crying.”
Rescue workers and firemen who were first at the crash site said none of the victims showed signs of burns nor was there any indication of an explosion upon impact, suggesting the aircraft was low on fuel.
The crash near Medellin took the lives of 71 victims, including 16 members of Brazilian football team Chapecoense.
While poor weather conditions continued to hamper rescue efforts in the mountainous and wooded area near to the town of La Union where the plane crashed, six survivors were pulled from the wreckage, including three Chapecoense players, a flight attendant and a flight technician.
The black boxes have been recovered and their findings will be revealed in the coming days, according to government sources.
Psychologists and other volunteers are gathered at a hotel in Medellin, where families of the victims will stay as they arrive Wednesday to identify remains.