BRASILIA – Brazil’s government paid an emotional tribute on Friday to authorities and inhabitants of the Colombian city of Medellin who helped provide assistance to the victims of last month’s Chapecoense soccer team plane crash and their relatives.
The ceremony at the Planalto presidential palace was headed by Brazilian President Michel Temer, who conferred the Order of the Southern Cross, the government’s highest honor, on Medellin and also honored a dozen Colombian individuals for their actions in the wake of the tragedy.
The homage was for all of the Colombian people but was focused on Medellin, the destination of the charter plane that crashed in the mountains just outside that city on Nov. 28 after running out of fuel.
Seventy-one of the 77 occupants of the jet, operated by Bolivia’s Lamia Airlines, perished in the crash.
The victims included nearly all of the Chapecoense players on board and a score of journalists who were traveling to cover the first leg of the Copa Sudamericana final pitting that club based in the southern Brazilian city of Chapeco against Medellin-based Atletico Nacional.
At the request of the Colombian team, the South American soccer confederation awarded the Copa Sudamericana title to Chapecoense, a club that had risen from the fourth division to the first division of Brazilian soccer in recent years.
On the night of Nov. 30, when the first leg of the final was to have been played, Atletico Nacional fans packed their home stadium in a moving tribute to the plane crash victims.
“Words will never suffice to thank Colombia and each and every Colombian for that example of solidarity, humanity they gave to all peoples and all countries,” Temer said.
The Order of Rio Branco was conferred on Medellin Mayor Federico Gutierrez and four other city government officials, as well as on Caracol Television host Monica Jaramillo and Johan Alexis Ramirez Castro, a 15-year-old boy who helped lead aid workers to the site of the accident.
Known since the tragedy as the “boy angel,” Ramirez Castro received the most enthusiastic applause at the ceremony and was also presented with a Brazilian national soccer team jersey by Defense Minister Raul Jungmann.
Gutierrez expressed thanks for the awards conferred on Colombian military personnel and civilians and said the people of Medellin felt the tragedy as if it were their own.
He added that his nation’s response to the air disaster showed the “true Colombia” of peace and solidarity.
All of the Colombians honored at the ceremony arrived in Brasilia on Friday in a Brazilian air force plane and returned on that same aircraft once it had concluded.
The only Brazilian honored at the ceremony was Chapeco Mayor Luciano Jose Buligon, who immediately traveled to Medellin after the crash to lend assistance to the victims and their relatives.