The Chapecoense football team was on a roll and in the midst of a historic season. Then the charter plane carrying the team to its most important match ever crashed into a mountain, killing 71 people, including 19 of its 22 players. It was the worst sports tragedy in years. Nearly one year later, Jon Wertheim reports from the city of Chapeco, where survivors, victims’ families, and local fans are still recovering and rebuilding their team after an accident that should never have happened. Wertheim’s report will be broadcast on 60 Minutes Sunday, Nov. 19 at 7:30 p.m. ET and 7:00 p.m. PT.
Wertheim spoke to all three surviving players together, who recount the chilling moments when the plane’s engine stopped operating and it lost altitude — because it had run out of fuel. “Only the wind. There was no sound at all,” says Jakson Follmann, who lost his lower right leg in the wreck. Helio Neto was in a coma for nine days after the crash. “I remember many people on the plane were praying, many people saying, ‘Jesus help. My God, Jesus have mercy,’ I was praying loudly,” says Neto.
“Sometimes I ask myself, ‘Why did all of this happen to us? Why were so many lives lost?'” says Follmann, “So many fathers were lost, most had 3 and 4-yr.-old children, innocent children who don’t understand. This hurts a lot.”
Wertheim also spoke to several widows of the team’s players. Leticia Gabriel’s husband was “Chape’s” star goalkeeper, known to all as Danilo. She describes the mass funeral held at the club’s stadium, in a driving rainstorm. “I remember seeing those trucks, and that very strong rain. It seemed like God was looking at the tragedy and crying,” she recalls. “As the coffins arrived at the stadium, it started to rain even harder. It was like a movie, where the soldiers went to war and returned in those coffins.”
Gabriel left town to live with her parents after her life with Danilo ended. “We had so many plans — to have more children, to build a house — so many dreams and all this ended overnight,” she tells Wertheim.
The widows received insurance payments from the team and the Brazilian soccer federation roughly equal to three years of their deceased husbands’ salaries, but say the team could be doing more for them. The team says they are doing all they can for the widows and children.
Beyond the controversial circumstances of the plane crash, the story also addresses the team’s decision to immediately hire new players and staff, and continue playing so soon after the catastrophe. The team president, known as Maninho, says the city of Chapecoense would be despondent if he had not fielded a team and carried on playing. “We want to do everything possible but we cannot always satisfy everyone. There are some things in life that only with the passing of time will allow people to understand,” says Maninho.
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