MEDELIN - Dozens have been killed after a plane carrying 72 passengers, including members of a Brazilian football team, crashed on its way to the Colombian city of Medellin.
The British Aerospace 146, operated by a little known Bolivian airline, LAMIA, declared an emergency at 10 pm on Monday night (28/11) following an electrical failure.
South America has seen a number of high profile air disasters over the years. According to Flight Safety Foundation, Colombia’s national airline, Avianca, was involved in 10 fatal incidents between 1985 and 1999 resulting in the deaths of 1,043 people.
The most infamous was the bombing of Flight 203 from Bogotá to Cali in 1989, masterminded by drug cartel boss Pablo Escobar, in which 110 passengers and crew were killed. Just two months later 72 people died when Avianca Flight 52, en route from Bogotá to New York City, crashed in Cove Neck, New York, after running out of fuel.
This week’s accident is also reminiscent of the 1972 Andes flight disaster, in which a chartered flight carrying 45 passengers, including a rugby union team, crashed in a remote region of Argentina. The 16 survivors were rescued more than two months after the crash and their story was told in the 1993 film Alive.
Air safety standards in South America have improved dramatically, however, and are now on a par with those found in Europe. Avianca, for example, has not been involved in a single incident since 1999, despite flying as many as 28 million passengers a year.
Each year the European Union publishes a list of airlines that are banned from its airspace due to concerns over safety standards. The vast majority are currently found in sub-Saharan Africa and it doesn’t contain a single South American airline.
The website AirlineRatings.com judges South America’s largest carriers to be among the safest in the world. LAN, based in Chile, Gol Transportes Aéreos and Azul Linhas Aereas (both Brazil), Avianca, and Aerolíneas Argentinas (Argentina), the continent’s five biggest in terms of passengers carried, each have the maximum safety rating of seven stars.
While less is known about LAMIA, the Bolivian airline involved in this week’s crash, it is subject to the same safety standards as its larger rivals.
Chris Moss, Telegraph Travel’s South America expert, said he has taken “hundreds” of internal flights there and couldn’t see any evidence that safety standards are any lower than in the West.
“Weather sometimes makes flights feel edgy, pilots have to take off in stormy conditions and Andean regions, like the area where Medellin sits, can look tricky from the air. But these are just inexpert impressions,” he said as report Telegraph.
Patrick Smith, a US pilot and author of the book Cockpit Confidential, argues that even in regions with bad reputations, such as sub-Saharan Africa, there is no such thing as a “dangerous” airline.
“Some are safer than others, but even the least safe airline is still very safe,” he says.
“And in certain regions I’d be more comfortable with a local carrier that knows its territory and the quirks of flying there. One example I love to cite is Bolivia’s LAB – Lloyd Aereo Boliviano – the former national airline of the poorest country in South America.