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Colombia repatriates bodies of plane crash victims as Bolivia probes charter airline

The city of Chapeco is preparing a memorial service for the deceased Chapecoense soccer players and officials. Meanwhile, allegations of negligence have emerged amid a Bolivian probe into LaMia airline.

Colombia began repatriating the bodies of the 71 victims killed in a plane crash outside the city of Medellin that killed most members of a Brazilian soccer team.

Brazilian and Colombian soldiers loaded several coffins containing the deceased Chapecoense players on to a large cargo plane in the city of Rio Negro. They will be transported to the city of Chapeco in southern Brazil, the home of the soccer team.

The club was on its way to play one of the biggest matches in its history when the plane crashed, killing all but six of the 77 people on board. Fifty of those killed included players, coaches, officials and journalists travelling with the club. Among the other deceased were 14 more Brazilians, five Bolivians, a Venezuelan and a Paraguayan. They will be flown home on a series of flights throughout the day.

Roberto Di Marche, a cousin of Chapecoense late director Nilson Folle Junior, said: "What we want now more than anything else is to go home, to take our friends and brothers home. The wait is the worst."

Brazil President Michael Temer is expected to greet the arriving cargo plane in Chapeco on Saturday. The city is planning a large memorial service that day, with more than 100,000 people - half the city's population - expected to attend. FIFA chief Gianni Infantino will also attend a section of the memorial held at the club's stadium.

In preparation for the memorial, residents hung more than 3,000 green and white origami figures in the shape of a crane onto the metal fence outside the team's Arena Conda stadium.

Bolivia shuts down charter company LAMIA

As authorities continue to investigate what caused the plane to crash, details have emerged of possible negligence and family ties between the LaMia airline and the aviation agency that approved the flight.

A harrowing recording has surfaced of the pilot communicating with air traffic controllers moments before the crash. Panicked, he urges the control tower to priority land the plane because he was out of fuel. 

Bolivia has shut down charter company LaMia and ordered a probe into its operations. Executive staff of the civil aviation authority, as well as the airports administrator, have also been suspended for the duration of the investigation.

LaMia's general director, Gustavo Vargas, was a longtime pilot for Bolivian President Evo Morales. His son, also named Gustavo Vargas, headed the office responsible licensing aircrafts in the civil aviation agency.

Morales said Friday that he backed the investigation and called for "drastic measures" against aviation officials who signed off on the flight. He said there should be a "profound investigation" to determine whether Vargas' son favored the airline, even though the flight range exceeded the fuel capacity on its British-built Aerospace 146 Avro RJ85.

Freddy Bonilla, Colombia's civil aviation safety chief, has since come out to say that the plane had disregarded rules on fuel reserves.

LaMia specializes in ferrying South American soccer teams around the region, including the Brazilian and Argentinean national teams, and superstar Lionel Messi.

dm/gsw (AP, AFP)

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