MEDELLIN, Colombia—The pilot of the Brazilian soccer team's charter flight that crashed in Colombia Monday night, killing 71 people, can be heard telling the tower that his plane had run out of fuel shortly before it went down in the mountains, according to leaked cockpit audio recording.
The harrowing tape, which was leaked to a Colombian radio station on Wednesday afternoon, captures the final moments of conversation between Lamia airlines pilot Miguel Alejandro Quiroga and the air traffic controller at Medellin's airport. The plane crashed seconds later, some 20 kilometers shy of the runway.
Two minutes into the 11-minute recording, Quiroga can be heard telling the tower that he needs a priority landing.
“We need priority to come in, we have a fuel problem,” the pilot says at minute 1:55.
The pilot is then told by air traffic control that he needs to wait 7 more minutes to get landing permission, because another plane is already approaching the landing strip.
At 4:20 the increasingly nervous-sounding pilot again asks for permission to land.
“I have a fuel emergency, señorita,” he tells the female air traffic controller. “I need landing instructions.”
At that point the air traffic controller can be heard telling all other planes awaiting permission to approach to continue in their holding pattern to allow the Lamia plane to land first.
At minute 4:50 the pilot says, “I need permission to descend immediately."
In the ensuing minutes, air traffic control attempts to guide the Lamia plane in for a night landing.
At minute 9:05, the pilot informs the tower that his situation is quickly getting worse.
“My machine is failing! I have no fuel left!” he says.
The air traffic controller instructs firemen to stand by and is heard saying, at minute 9:24 in the recording, that the landing strip has been cleared for his arrival.
The pilot then asks for the final landing instructions, but is unable to specify his current altitude, apparently due to a problem with his radar.
“I don't have your altitude,” the tower tells the pilot at minute 10:21.
At minute 10:25, the pilot utters what would be his final words. “Flying at 1,000 feet. I need light signals! I need light signals!”
The pilot then goes silent. All further questions from the tower go unanswered.
“He's not answering anymore. He blew up! He blew up!” a male voice says from the air traffic control room.
The audio seems to validate the hypothesis that the plane that crashed in Colombia on Monday ran out of fuel. The official investigation remains ongoing, however.
The plane was a British Aerospace RJ 85, whose maximum flight range was just barely within the distance that the pilot attempted to fly, a 2,900 kilometer trip between Santa Cruz, Bolivia and Medellin, Colombia.
Manuel Rueda is a correspondent for Fusion, covering Mexico and South America. He travels from donkey festivals, to salsa clubs to steamy places with cartel activity.