For Alan Ruschel, one of the three Chapecoense players who survived the devastating plane crash last month, dealing with the aftermath of what happened has only just begun.
The 27-year-old defender spoke to the press for the first time on Saturday, sobbing as he recalled the plane crash that killed 71 people, including 19 of his teammates, on its way to the Copa Sudamericana final. He changed seats before the flight at the request of club director Cadu Gaucho, a move he now thinks saved his life.
“Cadu Gaucho asked me to sit further forward and let the journalists sit together at the back,” he recalled through tears, according to reports. “I didn’t want to but then I saw Jakson Follman and he insisted I sit beside him. Only God can explain why I survived the accident. He grabbed me and gave me a second chance.”
Follman, a goalkeeper, is one of the other players who survived the crash, along with defender Neto. In all, six people survived the crash – three players, a club staff member, a journalist, and a flight attendant. Of the 71 people who died, 20 were journalists.
The flight was carrying Chapecoense players, club staff and media when it crashed in the mountains outside of Medellin, Colombia due to lack of fuel. Reports have suggested the flight from Brazil to Colombia for the Copa Sudamericana final was at the maximum limit for one tank of fuel and the plane did not stop for a midway refill like it should have. The Bolivian charter airline’s operating license has been revoked while authorities investigate.
Ruschel said he has avoided news of the tragedy, but questioned the motives of the plane’s pilot, who reportedly co-owned the charter airline.
“When they told me what happened it seemed like a dream, a nightmare,” Ruschel said from Arena Conda, the club’s stadium in Chapeco. “Little by little they’ve been telling me what happened and I’m starting to understand. I try not to speak of the accident, I avoid the news, but from the little I’ve seen, I think it was greed on the pilot’s part.”
Ruschel spent nearly three weeks in a hospital in Colombia before being released on Friday, able to walk under his own power. He has more recovery work to do, but said the tragedy has taught him that he must keep living life and he pledged to play soccer again one day.
“When I got here today I had the sensation that I was coming home,” he said. “I promise to give lots more happiness to this team. With a lot of effort and hard work I am going to be back playing again soon.”