Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense pays tribute to victims one year after tragic plane crash

FILE- In this Nov. 29, 2016 file photo, flowers hang from a soccer net in honor of Chapecoense soccer players who died in a plane crash (AP Photo/Andre Penner, File)

SAO PAULO (AP) — Fans gathered at the stadium of Brazilian soccer club Chapecoense on Tuesday night, paying their respects and praying for the victims of a plane crash a year ago that killed 19 of the team’s players.

A vigil will be held in the early hours of Wednesday at the Arena Conda stadium, where photos are being displayed of all 71 people killed in the crash. A Roman Catholic mass will follow later at the main church in the city of Chapeco.

Chapecoense’s plane went down en route to the club’s first ever South American tournament final in Colombia, after it ran out of fuel near Medellin, Colombia. It crashed late at night on Nov. 28 local time, though it was already Nov. 29 in Brazil, which is marking the anniversary Wednesday.

The southern Brazilian team was later awarded the Copa Sudamericana title, South America’s second most prestigious soccer tournament.

Chape, as the club is universally known, issued a statement to explain why the one-year anniversary of the tragedy should be marked discreetly around Chapeco.

“It is best to choose reflection and seek peace,” the club said. “Our eternal champions deserve all the tributes, but on this day we need to be respectful with those that remain and with the good memories that need to be eternal.”

The club’s quiet tribute will include 71 torches that will be lit on the pitch of its 20,000-seat stadium.

Several families of the victims have complained that the club has yet to pay them damages for the accident. The club has acknowledged the debts and said it is working to resolve the issue.

Many relatives of Chapecoense’s air crash victims have struggled to get their lives back on track. But Ilaides Padilha, mother of late goalkeeper Danilo, found a constructive way to cope with her loss.

“I opened this YouTube channel for mothers like me, there are too many losing their kids for stupid reasons in Brazil,” Padilha told The Associated Press, referring to the violence in the country.

On the pitch, Chape is in better shape than many expected and is holding its own.

After refusing to accept immunity from relegation in Brazil’s top division, the team could qualify on Sunday for South America’s prestigious Copa Libertadores tournament.

In May, Chape successfully defended its Santa Catarina state championship.

Chapeco’s vibrant meat-processing industry and other Brazilian clubs helped to rebuild the team.

“The effort we made this year was beyond normal, so I can’t be anything but very happy for the club,” said club chairman Plinio David de Nes, a club director who was one of several that was supposed to be aboard the flight. “But the loss of the families, of the friends, that is still with us.”

Chape’s season has had other glorious moments, including a friendly against Barcelona at the Camp Nou in August — a memorable 5-0 defeat.

Defender Alan Ruschel, one of the players who survived the crash, returned to soccer in that match.

Two other survivors are working hard to make a comeback in 2018. Defender Neto hopes to play for Chape early in the year, and goalkeeper Jackson Follmann, who lost part of his right leg, is now training to become a Brazilian Paralympic athlete.