CHAPECO, Brazil (AP) — A small Brazilian city that was captivated by the rise of its modest soccer club prepared Saturday to bury the dead from a plane crash that claimed most of the team’s players and staff.
The plane crashed into a muddy mountainside outside of Medillin, Colombia, on Monday as the club headed to the two-game final of one of Latin America’s top club tournaments. Seventy-one of the 77 people on board died, including 19 players on the team.
Saturday’s memorial service for the Chapecoense soccer club was expected to attract 100,000 people — half the city’s population — to the area around the small, 20,000-capacity stadium.
Ahead of the memorial, the bodies of many of the dead, all in caskets, arrived Saturday morning in Chapeco. Several cargo planes flew overnight from Colombia.
The caskets were received by soldiers waiting in formation on the tarmac. Under heavy rain, they removed one casket at a time, wheeling them to vehicles to transport them to the stadium.
Meanwhile, thousands began arriving at the stadium. Because of the limited capacity, many planned to watch the ceremony on big screens set up outside.
The memorial comes after a heart-wrenching week for residents and family members stunned by the crash.
Staff at the Jardim do Eden cemetery, where some of the victims will be buried, said they were used to the business of death; but not this kind tragedy.
“We bury two people every day. I’ve done this job for a long time, but this is different,” said Dirceu Correa, caretaker of the cemetery. “It is a tragedy for the families, for the club, and also for us because we are a part of the city.”
Gravediggers prepared for interments at two cemeteries where 13 people associated with the club will be buried. The bodies of the rest, including the 19 players, will be transported later to other cities around Brazil for burial.
In an emotional news conference Friday, the mother of one of the victims paused in between answering questions from reporters to ask one herself.
“How are you in the press doing after losing so many colleagues?” asked Ilaides Padilha, mother of the goalkeeper Danilo, referring to the 20 journalists who were killed in the crash.
The stunned reporter, Guido Nunes of Sportv, started crying, and Padilha hugged him. “We’re all in this together,” she said.
Brazilian President Michel Temer had been scheduled to greet the planes at the airport on Saturday, but not go to the memorial. Temer, who took power earlier this year after President Dilma Rousseff was impeached and removed, is deeply unpopular. He was jeered at the recent Olympics.
However, after being criticized on social media and even the father of one of the fallen players, Temer’s aides said he would in fact attend the memorial.
“He should come to the stadium. No one would boo,” said Osmar Machado, father of dead defender Felipe.
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