Airline chief arrested after Chapecoense plane crash

Rescue teams work in the recovery of the bodies of victims of the LAMIA airlines charter that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, Colombia, on November 29, 2016 carrying members of the Brazilian football team Chapecoense Real. A charter plane carrying the Brazilian football team crashed in the mountains in Colombia late Monday, killing as many as 75 people, officials said. / AFP PHOTO / STR / RAUL ARBOLEDA

Rescue teams work in the recovery of the bodies of victims of the LAMIA airlines charter that crashed in the mountains of Cerro Gordo, municipality of La Union, Colombia, on November 29, 2016 carrying members of the Brazilian football team Chapecoense Real.  AFP PHOTO / STR / RAUL ARBOLEDA

Bolivian officials arrested the head of LAMIA Airlines on Tuesday after a crash involving one of the charter firm’s planes which killed a Brazilian football team and dozens of others.

Gustavo Vargas, director general of the Bolivian charter firm, was arrested as part of a probe into the November 29 crash which claimed the lives of 71 people, including all but a handful of players from Chapecoense Real football club.

“There was an arrest order for the director of the company,” said prosecutor Ivan Quintanilla, who told reporters he had issued arrest orders for six people in connection with the crash, including a secretary and a mechanic at the airline.

Aviation officials also removed documents from LAMIA’s offices as part of the probe, media reported.

LAMIA Airlines is a Bolivian-registered charter company that specialises in flying Latin American football clubs.

Chapecoense had been enjoying a fairy tale season until the crash, and at the time of the accident were en route to a championship game which they were tipped to win.

The flight crashed into the Colombian mountains not far from the city of Medellin. Of 77 people onboard, 71 were killed.

Meanwhile, officials said a senior Bolivian aviation official who authorised the flight, Celia Castedo, had fled the country and was seeking asylum in Brazil.

“Celia sought refuge in Brazil yesterday in (the town of) Corumba” in Mato Grosso state near the border of Bolivia, an government official told AFP in the capital Brasilia.

Officials said she had fled fearing for her safety and that the process of reviewing her petition to remain in Brazil could take up to a year.

But Bolivian officials branded her a fugitive.

“Her departure from the country is illegal,” Interior Minister Carlos Romero told reporters, saying La Paz would seek to have her extradited.

Chapecoense were on their way to play Atletico Nacional of Medellin in the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final at the time of last week’s crash.

Only six people survived, three of them Chapecoense players.

Among the dead were 20 Brazilian journalists who were travelling with the team to cover the match.

Investigators from Bolivia, Brazil and Colombia are currently looking into what caused the crash, but officials have said one theory is that the plane ran out of fuel during the flight. On December 1, Bolivia authorities revoked LAMIA’s operating license and ordered an investigation into its operations.

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