November 29, 2017 / 11:00 AM / 15 days ago

Chapecoense remembers fatal crash one year on

SAO PAULO (Reuters) - Grieving fans of Chapecoense football club held a candlelit vigil at their stadium in southern Brazil on Wednesday, exactly one year after the team’s plane crashed into a hillside in Colombia, killing most of the players on board.

Hundreds of supporters in Chapeco prayed together before walking to the city’s cathedral, where the bells tolled at 1:15 am, the exact moment the accident occurred on Nov. 29 last year.

The plane crashed as it approached Medellin, killing 71 of the 77 people on board, including all bar three of the Chapecoense squad.

The club were on their way to the biggest game in their history, a Copa Sudamericana final against Atletico Nacional.

The match was cancelled and South American football’s governing body awarded the title to the Brazilian club.

The team, now known around the world as “Chape”, eschewed any major events on the anniversary, telling fans they were opting to spend the day “reflecting and seeking peace.”

“I know – and I agree - that our eternal champions deserve all the tributes available to them but on this day especially we have to have respect,” the club wrote in an open letter. “Respect for those who remain and respect for great memories.”

In one of the few events planned, the club was to open the stadium to let fans see a new tunnel decorated with 48 two-meter high photos of players and special moments from the side’s history.

It also created a special website, an online condolence book, where fans can leave messages of support.

Chapecoense survived the difficult year by signing a whole new squad of players, most of them experienced journeymen.

They won the Santa Catarina state championship in May and briefly led the Brazilian first division a few weeks later before falling down the table.

They flirted with the relegation zone and used three different coaches over the course of the year but a 2-1 victory over Vitoria on Nov. 17 ensured they will retain their top-flight status.

The club turned down the chance of immunity from relegation before the season started and a win in Sunday’s final Serie A game could even take them into next year’s Copa Libertadores, the South American version of the Champions League.

Reporting by Andrew Downie; Editing by Christian Radnedge

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