Soccer players from team aboard plane that crashed 53 years ago reflect on rediscovery

Former team members of Green Cross soccer club react to discovery of doomed flight that killed eight of their players over 50 years ago.

LINARES, CHILE (RECENT – FEBRUARY 4, 2015) (TVN) – A day after a Chilean expedition team announced it had discovered the fuselage of a passenger plane that went missing over a half century ago, surviving peers of the fallen players spoke out about their own twists of fate from back in the day.

The discovery of the plane was made after a gruelling journey up into the rarefied air of the Andes mountains. The Chilean mountaineering team made their announcement on Sunday (February 8) after finding out they had uncovered the fuselage of a passenger plane that went missing.

The LAN Chile Douglas DC-3 twin-propeller aircraft was reported missing on April 3, 1961, near the city of Linares, some 300 kilometres (186 miles) south of the Chilean capital of Santiago.

The airline, now part of Latam Airlines Group LAN.SN, the region’s largest carrier, was state-owned at the time of the accident.

Rescuers found the tail end of the aircraft and some human remains a week after the crash, an official who asked not to be named told Reuters, but the recovery effort was abandoned near the snow-capped peaks due to its dangerous and remote location.

Upon hearing of the discovery, former members of the Green Cross soccer club recalled the chronology of the plane’s disappearance.

“Some of our superiors told us they were very worried, because the plane had not arrived from Osorno and the flight had been reported missing. The plane never arrived,” Green Cross veteran Carlos Al-Konr said.

Others remembered how they barely survived the tragedy.

“(I want to change flights with you) ‘because I have some friends.’ There were a group of friends who wanted to travel together in the second plane so Alfredo said, ‘I’ll switch with you,'” Green Cross player Santiago Garcia said.

Garcia went on to note how the doomed flight was in fact promising the players a shorter trip.

“The preferable flight was going to be the other one (the one which crashed) because the other one made a stopover and arrived sooner and we all had to get off, it’s also a matter of destiny,” Garcia said.

To get to the crash site at 3,000 metres (9,843 feet) above sea level, the nine-member mountaineering team travelled two days by horseback, traversing streams and ravines, and then spent another two days climbing deep into the mountains. It took another two days to get back down.

Members of the team made two unsuccessful attempts last year to locate the plane, and the third time was the charm. January to April is typically the best time of the year to climb in the Chilean Andes south of the capital.

The team found pieces of the plane, including a propeller, and lost shoes scattered about a rocky slope.

“(A number of remains were found) of the aircraft, including passenger belongings and practically a symbolic funeral was held (because human remains were not found),” Al-Konr said.

Several family members want to make the journey to the site themselves to pay their final respects, the team told local media, whilst the site has also gained fame amongst tourists and mountaineers.

Eight players and the coach of the top-flight Green Cross soccer club as well as three referees were among the 24 passengers travelling aboard the plane.