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Air Crashes involving Footballers

Whilst air travel statistically is the safest form of travel, things can and do go wrong and, when they do, they tend to have catastrophic consequences for those involved.

Since commercial air travel became a viable opposition after the end of the Second World War, unfortunately there have been players and even entire teams that have died in air crashes.

Here are some of the most notable:

1949 Torino

One of the finest teams ever produced in Italy were killed when returning to Italy after playing a friendly in Portugal against Benfica. As their flight attempted to land in dense fog it crashed into a church on the outskirts of Turin. All on board died.

1958 Munich

Returning from a European Cup match in Belgrade, a chartered flight containing the famous Busby Babes of Manchester United stopped in Munich to refuel. The conditions were very icy at the time and when the plane attempted to take of again it crashed, eight players were killed along with staff members and accompanying journalists, and a number of others were seriously injured, including manager Matt Busby.

1965 Antonio Varas Chile

Twenty two players and staff from Chile side Antonio Varas died when travelling to Buenos Aires to play a match. Their plane crashed into the side of a mountain in the Andes, killing all on board. It was the worst air disaster in Chilean history.

1969 The Strongest Bolivia

Bolivian team The Strongest from La Paz were invited in 1969 to participate in an exhibition game in Santa Cruz. The plane disappeared from the radar on its return flight, and next day came the news that it had come down in a rural area of the country. All on board perished, including 17 team members and three non-playing staff.

1979 FC Pashtakor, Tashkent

Pashtakor had just returned to the Soviet top league, when the club was struck by tragedy. During a commercial flight to play Dinamo Minsk in what is now Belarus, the plane they were travelling on was involved in a mid-air collision. All 178 people on both planes died, including 17 Pashtakor players and staff members.

1987 Alianza Lima Peru

Chasing the league title in 1987, Alianza Lima travelled to the east of the county to play Deportivo Pucalipa. They chartered a flight back which crashed into the sea on its approaches to Lima. The pilot was the only survivor. The entire team perished.

1989 Colourful 11, Surinam

The Colourful 11 were a group of football players playing professionally in Dutch football of Surinamese origin. The team were due to play an exhibition match in Suriname in 1989, and took a commercial flight from Schiphol airport near Amsterdam to the Asian country. However, on its approach to Paramaribo-Zanderij International airport the plane crashed. 176 of the 187 people on board died, including 14 players and a coach. Three players survived, two of whom would never play football again because of their injuries.

1993 Zambian National Team

Most of the Zambian national football team died shortly after taking off from Libreville in Gabon, en route to a World Cup Qualifier against Senegal. Their plane crashed in o the Atlantic Ocean when the pilot shutdown the wrong engine in response to an engine fire.

2016 Chapecoense Columbia

Brazilian team Chapecoense were travelling to Columbia to play Atletico National in the Copa Sudamericana Finals.  

The plane crashed as it approached Medellin in Columbia because it ran out of fuel. 71 people died, including almost the entire team, staff members and travelling journalists. Three players survived, but one was injured so badly that he had to have his leg amputated. Another survived the initial crash but eventually died as a result of his injuries.

2019 Emiliano Sala English Channel

Argentine striker Emiliano Sala had just signed for Premier League side Cardiff City from Nantes in Ligue 1. He returned to France to pit his affairs in order and a light plane was chartered to fly him from Nantes to South Wales. It later transpired that the pilot was not licensed to fly that particular type of plane at night. The plane crashed in bad weather over the English Channel, Sala’s body was later found after an extensive search. That of the pilot, Ibbotson, has never been found.

2021 Palmas Brazil

Four players and the club president from Brazilian regional club Palmas died when the light aircraft they had chartered crashed shortly after take-off. They were on their way to a cup match and had been forced to travel apart from the rest of the team because they had all tested positive for Covid.

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