Football

Crashing from heights - the 1987 Alianza Lima air disaster

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He was an expert swimmer but this time he just couldn’t - his leg was broken. Swimming was impossible and all around him there was nothing.

He felt himself sinking, drowning, dying...

On December 8, 1987, 23-year-old forward Alfredo Tomassini left the 15,000-seater Aliardo Soria Pérez in Pucallpa feeling proud of his team. Alianza Lima were top of the table, and deserved that honour. A team brimming with young talent, including 18-year-old striker Luis Escobar and 23-year-old midfielder José Casanova, who had been capped ten times by Peru, were finally realising the dream of securing another Peruvian league title - a potential first since 1978.

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The Lima-based club were, and are, the most successful Peruvian club in history. They have the biggest fan base, the highest number of national championships, and are the oldest club in Peru. The zenith of that dominance was released in 1977 and 1978, when legends at the peak of their powers, including midfielders Teófilo Cubillas and César Cueto, led the club to consecutive championships. Since then, however, it had been a long decade without any success.

Finally, they were setting the league on fire.

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Alfredo boarded the Fokker F-27, provided by the Peruvian Navy, along with fifteen teammates, five coaching staff, four directors, eight cheerleaders, three referees, two Navy personnel, six crewmembers and one pilot. They were going back home, satisfied with conquering a tough away game.

At 6:30 pm the flight took off and around an hour later they all saw Lima. It was closer than ever, seen in its majesty from the night sky.

They never saw Lima again.

The pilot was unsure if the landing gear was down and locked, so he did a “fly-by” for other observers to confirm. Once they did, the pilot attempted landing on the runway. Partly due to the pilot’s incompetence and partly due to the plane’s shoddy mechanical condition, the plane was flying too close to the Pacific Ocean, and the airplane crashed.

11 kilometers northeast of Jorge Chávez International Airport, the best team in Peru had died.

In a cruel twist, search and rescue operations only started the next morning as they had run out of fuel - sold in the black market by corrupt officials - and when the search did happen pilot Edilberto Villar was saved. The rest were given up upon.

Los Potrillos del '87 - the colts of 87 - would forever be remembered. They had lost their best coach Marcos Calderón. They had lost 18-year-old Luis Escobar, the most promising striker in Peruvian history - they had lost everything.

Except they hadn’t - Alianza Lima hadn’t lost their fighting spirit.

Retired legends Teófilo Cubillas and César Cueto came back while Colo-Colo helped out by loaning four players to the broken team. Alianza had just a month to form a team - the next match was on January 3, 1988 - and the fans were just happy that Alianza Lima had a team that could play.

What they didn’t expect was that Alianza Lima had a team that could compete.

They lost just twice en route to the final, where they were narrowly defeated by Universitario de Deportes in a tense 1-0 final.

Sinking? Drowning? Dying? Not on your life.

 

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