Surrounded by the twisted metal of a horrifying plane crash, a journalist picks through the debris. In among the tattered possessions, though, something catches his eye. Then, bending down, he pulls a Bible from the wreckage. And the passage it opens at sends him reeling with shock.
On that fateful flight on November 28, 2016, however, the Chapecoense soccer team from Brazil were said to have initially been in high spirits. After all, they were on their way to Medellín, Colombia, to face local team Atlético Nacional in the Copa Sudamericana final.
And that was no mean feat, as the Copa Sudamericana is one of the most highly contested competitions in South American soccer. Indeed, for a small club that had only entered Brazil’s top division in 2014, it was to be the biggest match of its 43-year career. Tragically, however, the game would never take place.
Earlier that evening, 22 players boarded LaMia Flight 2933 in Santa Cruz de la Sierra, Bolivia, destined for José María Córdova International Airport in Colombia. They were accompanied by 23 Chapecoense staff members and two guests. Also on board were 21 journalists, who were there to document the small team on their way to realizing their big dreams.
Originally, the flight had been scheduled to make a stop at Cobija near the Brazilian border so that the aircraft could refuel. However, Flight 2933 was late departing Santa Cruz de la Sierra. And as a result, it could not make it to the stopover airport before the facility closed.
Instead, the pilot flew directly on to José María Córdova International Airport – a distance close to 1,600 nautical miles. And as the Avro RJ85 aircraft in which the team were flying has a range of around 1,600 nautical miles under normal conditions, the plane was approaching the very limit of its capacity.
At around 9:30 p.m., then, Flight 2933 started descending from cruising altitude. However, traffic at the airport meant that the aircraft had to wait for an opportunity to land. Subsequently, while completing circuits above the airport, the aircraft added another 54 nautical miles to its already perilously long journey.
Around half an hour later, then, Flight 2933 was in serious trouble. Indeed, the crew detected that fuel supplies were all but exhausted and that the craft’s electrical systems were failing. Still worse, at around that point air traffic control at José María Córdova International Airport simply lost track of the aircraft. Eventually, then, it came down in the mountains 11 miles south of the airport.
There, the aircraft smashed into a ridge at around 8,500 feet up on the Cerro Gordo mountain. The plane was likely torn apart on impact, with the wreckage consequently strewn on either side of the ridge. And to make matters worse, bad weather meant that first responders were unable to reach the crash site to search for survivors.
Finally, however, around two hours after the plane had gone down, rescuers arrived on site. Yet after scouring an area of debris stretching to about 330 feet across, they were able to pull just seven survivors from the wreckage. 70 of the 77 people on board Flight 2933, then, had tragically lost their lives.
Sadly, one of the survivors, Marcos Danilo Padilha, died from his injuries shortly after arriving at the hospital. That left just three sportsmen, two flight staff and one journalist as the only survivors of the ill-fated flight.
So as news of the tragedy broke, the world went into mourning and soccer matches across the globe observed a minute’s silence. Furthermore, Atlético Nacional requested that Chapecoense be awarded the title of champions of the 2016 Copa Sudamericana. That was a request that officials granted on December 5.
Meanwhile, Brazilian journalist Roberto Cabrini was one of the many reporters who covered the story as it broke. And on December 4, a YouTube user uploaded a video that shows Cabrini investigating the site of the crash.
In the video, then, the journalist can be seen picking through the torn bits of fuselage and personal belongings that still litter the mountainside. Poignantly, though, the camera picks out several pairs of abandoned soccer boots sticking out of the wreckage.
Suddenly, though, Cabrini bends down to retrieve something from the scattered debris. It is a Bible – and not just any Bible. Because, apparently shaking with emotion, the journalist soon realizes that the book belongs to defender Hélio Neto, one of the few survivors of the fatal crash.
And that’s not all. As Cabrini takes a closer look at the Bible, he sees that a particularly poignant passage had been previously marked. Neto had placed a bookmark at Psalm 63, which contains the line, “Then I will rejoice in the shadow of your wings.”
The same psalm also contains a reference to remembering God while lying in bed – a line made all the more unsettling by recent reports that Neto may have had a premonitory dream. Apparently, on the morning of November 28, the player had told his wife Simone that he had dreamed about the plane crashing.
What’s more, according to Simone, Neto was staunchly religious and always carried his Bible with him whenever he traveled. So, when Cabrini realized what he had discovered, he brought it with him back down the mountain. His goal? To return the Bible to the injured player.
And, in a poignant turn of events, Cabrini was able to meet Simone at the RioNegro hospital in Medellín where her husband was being treated. There, he returned Neto’s Bible to her. Understandably, Simone wept as she took it from the journalist, clearly overwhelmed by the touching gesture.
Sadly, the crash left Neto in a coma for almost two weeks before he woke up. And, even more tragically, at first he had no knowledge of what had happened or how he had got to the hospital. Consequently, doctors were forced to inform him of the heartbreaking loss of his teammates and friends. And during what must be an undeniably difficult time for Neto, we can only hope that he was able to find solace in his faith.