Exclusive - Brazil's Chapecoense air crash widows decry 'abandonment'

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - The families of Brazilians killed in the Chapecoense air crash are appealing for justice and reparations and said in interviews on Wednesday that they feel "abandoned" by the football club and media companies.

On the same day that Chapecoense players met the Pope in Rome, representatives from the Association of Families and Friends of the Victims of the Chapecoense Flight told Reuters more must be done to help them financially and psychologically.

They also demand answers to questions about responsibility for the crash.

"It was an accident waiting to happen," said Fabienne Belle, whose husband Cesar Martins was the club physiologist. "Chapecoense and the companies need to take institutional responsibility for the lives that were taken from us."

Seventy-one passengers and crew died when a plane carrying the Chapecoense team crashed in Colombia last Nov. 28. All but three of the players onboard perished, along with dozens of officials and journalists accompanying the team to the final of the Copa Sudamericana in Medellin.

Colombian aviation authorities found that Bolivian airline company LaMia had skimped on fuel, causing the plane to plummet into a mountainside before it could reach the airport.

The airline's chief executive, who was jailed pending a trial for manslaughter, denies the charges. The company's co-owner was the plane's pilot and died in the crash.

One of the association's main complaints is that the club insisted on hiring LaMia even after the company's methods were questioned by players.

On a trip to Barranquilla in Colombia for an earlier round, the squad was taken from the Bolivian border to the airport in a van that had no doors on it, Belle said. The team arrived 22 hours later than scheduled, which should have prompted the club to take more care of their staff, the widows say.

"What happened before determined what happened that night," said Belle, the association's president, in an interview in Sao Paulo. "Chapecoense had done this before on many trips. There was a lack of oversight. One of our concerns is educational, to ensure this doesn't happen again."

Chapecoense's Communications Director Fernando Matos said the club met with the association last week to discuss many of the points raised but he refused to address specific questions.

"It was established that the club and associations would not deal with these issues through the media," Matos said.


One of the widows' main complaints is their lack of access to documents about the investigation. The group, which has 54 members from 16 families, has not been given access to details of LaMia's accident insurance.

Some families have been paid through life insurance plans, but the accident insurance company has only offered $200,000 to each family as "humanitarian" payments, Belle said.

"It felt like a consolation prize," she said. "Some people want to take it because they haven't had any income for nine months. Some families are struggling and have gone to the club to ask for handouts."

Without more transparency from the club, families say they are struggling to secure higher payments.

Some widows also expressed resentment with the media companies involved. Twenty journalists and reporters from nine different media outlets died in the crash but some of them also feel they have been given little assistance or information.

"The most revolting thing is that none of the companies have recognised their responsibility," Mara Paiva, whose husband Mario Sergio was a commentator for Fox Sports, told Reuters. "The majority have washed their hands of the case and thrown it all on the club."

Fox Sports told Reuters they had "adopted all the measures at their disposal to reduce the pain felt by the families and make them more comfortable." The company said it would not list the measures but would continue to do everything possible to help the bereaved.

(Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Brad Haynes and Grant McCool)

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