Bolivia says airline, pilot responsible for plane crash

December 23, 2016

December, 20 2016 (Reuters)

A Bolivian government investigation into the plane crash that killed dozens of Brazilian soccer players last month concluded that a Bolivian airline and pilot were directly responsible, Public Works Minister Milton Claros said on Tuesday.

The pilot, Miguel Quiroga, was one of 71 people killed when a plane operated by the Bolivia-based charter apparently ran out of fuel and crashed on a wooded hillside near the Colombian city Medellin. Quiroga was also a co-owner of the airline.

The aircraft had been transporting Brazil’s Chapecoense soccer team to the biggest game in its history, the final of the Copa Sudamericana.

“LaMia and the pilot are directly responsible for what happened with this tragic event,” Claros, who oversees Bolivia’s aviation authority, told reporters.

Gustavo Vargas Gamboa, LaMia’s chief executive, was jailed pending trial earlier this month on manslaughter and other charges. He has denied the charges.

His son Gustavo Vargas Villegas, a former official with Bolivia’s aviation authority, is also being held until trial on charges that he misused his influence in authorizing the license of the plane that crashed. He also says he is innocent.

Criminal charges were also brought against LaMia co-owner Marco Antonio Rocha Benegas, whose whereabouts are unknown, and air traffic controller Celia Castedo, who fled Bolivia after the crash and is seeking asylum in Brazil.

At the press conference, Claros said the crash was an “isolated” incident and did not mean it was unsafe to fly in Bolivia. Still he said the government would accelerate the process of implementing a new aeronautical safety system.

(Reporting by Daniel Ramos; Writing by Luc Cohen and Alistair Bell)