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From the Torino Soccer Club to Chapecoense, The Tragic History of Sports Teams and Air Disasters

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A boy sits alone on the stands during a tribute to the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real who were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains, at the club's Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on November 29, 2016. Chapecoense had risen from obscurity to make it to the Copa Sudamericana finals scheduled for Wednesday against Atletico Nacional of Colombia. (Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)
A boy sits alone on the stands during a tribute to the players of Brazilian team Chapecoense Real who were killed in a plane accident in the Colombian mountains, at the club’s Arena Conda stadium in Chapeco, in the southern Brazilian state of Santa Catarina, on November 29, 2016.
Chapecoense had risen from obscurity to make it to the Copa Sudamericana finals scheduled for Wednesday against Atletico Nacional of Colombia. (Nelson Almeida/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Back in November 2016, a plane carrying Brazilian soccer players crashed shortly after takeoff in Medellin, Colombia, killing 71 people, including 19 players. (Three players miraculously survived.) It was a tremendous tragedy—but it wasn’t all that surprising. That’s because sports teams stepping onto doomed flights has been nightmarishly common since the 1940s. RealClearLife has curated a list of the worst ones below.

 

Torino Soccer Club (1949) – Twenty-two members of the Torino F.C. soccer team were killed when their plane hit the side a mountain. It’s been called “The Day Italian Football Died“; a reported 500,000 mourners showed up to the funeral in Turin. Read more about it here.

History of Sports Air Tragedies
Some of the victims of the air crash in which Italian football team Torino F.C. were killed, along with their British trainer Leslie Lievesley, May 5, 1949. The plane, which had taken off in Lisbon, was circling to land in Turin when it crashed into Superga hill. The death toll equaled 31, including the entire team, five reserves, two trainers, three journalist, the club’s manager Arnaldo Agnisetta, a masseur and the crew of the aircraft (Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

 

 

U.S. Figure Skating Team (1961) – All 16 members of the team were killed, when their plane crash-landed in Brussels, Belgium. The only survivor was a dog in the cargo hold. Read more about it here.

History of Sports Air Disasters
Family picture of the U.S. figure skating team before boarding the Sabena Flight 548, on February 15, 1961, in New York that crashed near Brussels, Belgium, killing 72 people in which the entire United States Figure Skating team on its way to the 1961 World Championships in Prague, Czechoslovakia (STF/AFP/Getty Images)

 

 

Marshall University Football Team (1970) – All 75 people on board, including all 38 members of the football team, perished. A biopic, We Are Marshall, starring Matthew McConaughey, was made about the team and its fate in 2006 (watch the trailer here). Read more about the disaster here.

Worst Air Disasters in Sports History
Five rescue workers search the wreckage of a plane crash in Huntington, West Virginia. The plane carried the entire Marshall University Football team and all passengers were killed (Bettmann/Contributor)

 

 

Old Christians Rugby Club (1972) – The subject of a 1993 film Alive, the crash involved members of a Uruguayan rugby squad. Their plane ditched high in Argentina’s Andes Mountains, and miraculously, 16 passengers were rescued 72 days after the crash (they stayed alive by cannibalizing their frozen compatriots). Read more about it here.

Worst Air Disasters in Sports History
Rugby players of Old Christians team from Uruguay stand near the F-227 plane’s fuselage on December 1972, in Mendoza, Argentina. ( Sobrevivientes de los Andes/LatinContent/Getty Images)

 

 

University of Evansville Basketball Team (1977) – Twenty-nine people died, including 14 team members and its head coach. According to the Indianapolis Star, the same charter jet service had been used by the Indiana Pacers, Butler University’s basketball team, and Notre Dame’s. Read more about it here.

Worst Air Disasters in Sports History
Wreckage of a DC-3 which crashed on takeoff from Dress Regional Airport in Evansville, Indiana, lies on top of a ridge adjoining railroad tracks, December 14, 1977. Twenty-nine people died in the crash, including the University of Evansville basketball team (AP Photo)

 

 

Peru’s Alianza Lima Soccer Team (1987) – The team’s coach and 16 of its players were killed when their Peruvian Navy charter crashed into the ocean. Read the haunting original report in The New York Times here.

Worst Air Disasters in Sports History
Relatives, friends, and fans gather at the Alejandro Villanueva stadium in Lima on December 8, 2016, for a tribute to the soccer players of Peru’s Alianza Lima, killed in an air crash 29 years ago and of Brazil’s Chapecoense, killed in another crash in Colombia on November 28, 2016 (Ernesto Benavides/AFP/Getty Images)

 

 

Zambian National Soccer Team (1993) – Eighteen players and five officials died in the crash when their plane, headed for a World Cup qualifying match, crashed into the sea. Read the original report from the Los Angeles Times here.

Worst Air Disasters in Sports History
A file photo taken on April 28, 1993, shows Gabonese soldiers and rescuers standing on a beach as divers search at sea for the bodies of passengers of a plane that crashed on April 27 shortly after takeoff from Libreville with players of the national Zambian football team on board. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

 

Yaroslavl Lokomotiv Hockey Team (2011) – All but one of the 45 passengers on board survived, with 27 players killed, two coaches, and seven club officials. Its lone survivor, Alexander Sizov, in a translated interview from The Moscow Times, said: “On impact, everything started flying. Something hit me hard, that’s why my left side is all busted up….Once in the water, I honestly didn’t see or notice anything around—not the fires, not the plane, nothing.” (The “water” he mentions is a tributary of the Volga River.) Read more about it here.

Worst Air Disasters in Sports History
Emergency workers collect debris of the Yak-42 jet, which crashed near Yaroslavl, 150 miles northeast of Moscow in Russia on September 9, 2011. The crash killed 36 players, coaches and staff of the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl team, including European national team and former NHL players. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze)

 

Chapecoense Brazilian Soccer Team (2016) – In a positive twist to the tragedy, as of the new year, the soccer squad was looking to sign 20 new players and save jerseys for the surviving members of the team, in the hopes that they’d be healthy enough to hit the pitch in 2017. Read the original report from The Guardian here.

Worst Air Disasters in Sports History
Rescue workers stand at the wreckage site of a chartered airplane that crashed in a mountainous area outside Medellin, Colombia, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2016. The plane was carrying the Brazilian first division soccer club Chapecoense team that was on it’s way for a Copa Sudamericana final match against Colombia’s Atletico Nacional (AP Photo/Luis Benavides)

 

—RealClearLife Staff