Chapecoense defender says he was persuaded to swap seats before crash

A Brazilian footballer who survived the plane crash that killed most of his team in Colombia last month changed seats at the last minute after a team-mate encouraged him to sit beside him, Alan Ruschel said on Saturday.

The Chapecoense full-back Ruschel was sitting near the back of the plane when club director Cadu Gaucho asked him to move on the journey to play in the Copa Sudamericana final.

“Cadu Gaucho asked me to sit further forward and let the journalists sit together at the back,” Ruschel told reporters at a news conference. “I didn’t want to but then I saw [Jackson] Follman and he insisted that I sit beside him. Only God can explain why I survived the accident. He grabbed me and gave me a second chance.”

Ruschel, 27, was one of only six survivors on the plane, which crashed into the mountains near Medellin on 29 November earlier this year. The disaster killed 71 people, including almost all the Chapecoense team, directors and staff.

Goalkeeper Follman, one of Ruschel’s best friends in the team, also survived, but had part of his leg amputated. He was transferred on Saturday morning via air ambulance from São Paulo to a hospital in the club’s home city in southern Brazil.

“I don’t remember anything about the accident,” Ruschel said at the Arena Conda, the club’s stadium in Chapecó.

“When they told me what happened it seemed like a dream, a nightmare. Little by little they’ve been telling me what happened and I’m starting to understand. I try not to speak of the accident, I avoid the news, but from the little I’ve seen I think it was greed on the pilot’s part.”

The pilot of the Bolivian-run LAMIA plane has been accused of taking off without enough fuel for the flight. Bolivian authorities suspended the airline’s operating licence and replaced the management of its aviation authority to ensure a transparent investigation.

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