The 1987 Alianza Lima air disaster took place on 8 December 1987, when a Peruvian Navy Fokker F27-400M chartered by Peruvian football club Alianza Lima plunged into the Pacific Ocean six miles short of its destination, off the Ventanilla District of the city of Callao. On board the flight were a total of 44 players, managers, staff, team supporters, and crewmembers, of whom only the pilot survived the accident. The team was returning from a Peruvian league match in Pucallpa. Uncomfortable with the malfunctioning indicator on his control panel, the pilot requested a flyby of the control tower at Lima's Jorge Chávez International Airport so that spotters on the ground could confirm that the aircraft's landing gear was down and locked. Upon receiving visual confirmation of safe configuration for landing, the aircraft went around for another attempt at a landing, during which the aircraft flew too low, hitting the Pacific Ocean.
Following the crash, the Peruvian Navy shut itself off from the press, and did not release the results of its investigation nor did it allow private investigations to take place. Allegations were made that the accident had been caused by the aircraft's shoddy mechanical condition, and the Navy concealed the truth in order to save face amidst the chaos the country was enduring at the hands of the Sendero Luminoso terrorist movement. It was not until 2006 that a Peruvian television program revealed that the results of the official inquiry into the cause of the disaster had been concealed by the Peruvian Navy. The investigation cited the pilot's lack of night flying experience, his misreading of the emergency procedures related to the landing gear issue, and the aircraft's poor mechanical condition as contributing factors to the accident.
A total of 43 players, managers, staff, cheerleaders, and crewmembers lost their lives in the accident; only the pilot survived. At the time, it was the eighth-worst accident in the history of Peruvian aviation. The Peruvian Football Federation chose not to end the football season early, despite the loss of what amounted to the majority of Alianza's team; the club played their last few matches with retired volunteers including Teófilo Cubillas and César Cueto, players from its youth teams, and players loaned by Chilean club Colo Colo. The accident was disastrous for Alianza, who lost their most promising squad in a decade, as well as that year's league title to crosstown rival Universitario de Deportes.
After defeating Deportivo Pucallpa by 1-0 in an away match for the Peruvian league on December 8, Alianza had moved into first place of the league table. The team returned to its hotel and immediately prepared their effects for the trip back to Lima. The club had organized a charter aircraft, provided by the Air Services branch of the Peruvian Navy (Servicio Aeronaval de la Marina del Peru) for the trip to Pucallpa and back. The aircraft was a Fokker F27-400M Friendship, registration AE-560, captained by Peruvian Navy Lieutenant Edilberto Villar. The aircraft, with serial number 10548, had first flown in 1977, and had logged a total of 5908 hours.
The aircraft, carrying sixteen footballers, five coaching staff, four directors, eight cheerleaders, three referees, two Navy personnel, and six crewmembers, took off from FAP Captain David Abenzur Rengifo International Airport in Pucallpa at 6:30 in the afternoon. As the pilots began their descent into Lima, they noticed that they could not confirm that the Fokker's landing gear was down and locked. The aircraft requested a flyby of the control tower at Jorge Chavez airport so that observers on the ground could confirm that the wheels were down. The observers confirmed that the airplane was configured for landing; at the aircraft mechanic's go-ahead, the pilot brought the aircraft around for another attempt at a landing. The aircraft flew too low over the water and the right wing struck the surface of the ocean as the aircraft was lining up with the runway, 11.1 km (6.9 mi) northwest of the airport. At 8:05 PM, the control tower lost contact with the aircraft and a state of emergency was declared, but search and rescue teams couldn't respond as all the rescue vehicles were out of fuel, due to corrupt officers selling the daily quota on the black market. The search for survivors started in the morning of the next day. As soon as the pilot of the aircraft, Edilberto Villar, was found, the search and rescue teams started to give up on looking for the rest of the passengers
The Jorge Chavez Airport staff didn't give any information about the accident, some even started spreading misleading information. The initial report given by the Airport Staff was that the airplane stayed at Pucallpa due to bad weather.Peruvian Navy First Lieutenant César Morales
Four other crewmembers
Alianza Lima players
Carlos "Pacho" Bustamante
Luis Antonio Escobar
Tomas "Pechito" Farfan
José González Ganoza
William "Willy" Leon
Braulio "Tejadita" Tejada
Alianza Lima staff
Marcos Calderón (coach)
Rolando Galvez Niño (conditioning coach)
Andres Eche Chunga (assistant)
Washington Gomez (official)
Santiago Miranda (team boss)
Orestes Suarez (medic)
Gorge Luis Chicoma Alfaro, (koki)
Four other coaching staff and team directors
Three referees: Miguel Piña (referee and father of 2 boys)
Two Navy personnel
Peruvian Navy Lieutenant Edilberto Villar
The day after the accident, the entire country mourned the loss. Radio and television reporters spread the news of the disaster, and people flocked to the beaches of Ventanilla and Alianza's Alejandro Villanueva Stadium in the La Victoria district of Lima. Over the next several days, the corpses were recovered from the sea. People attended dramatic mourning masses, attended football matches played in honor of the fallen players, and participated in pilgrimages that started in the various barrios the players had hailed from, stopped at the club's stadium, and ended at Lima's General Cemetery. The team was said to have gone “de La Victoria a la gloria” (from Victory to glory) a pun on the team's home district. President Alan García, Cardinal Juan Landázuri Ricketts, and several state ministers attended various public grievances, with many declaring themselves to have been Aliancistas since childhood. The municipal government of La Victoria declared three days of mourning in the district, and ordered its decoration in Alianza's blue and white colors. Bobby Charlton publicly announced his grief, having himself survived the Munich air disaster of 1958, which claimed the lives of many of Manchester United's "Busby Babes". Uruguayan club Peñarol wore black mourning bands at the Intercontinental Cup final, in a showing of solidarity with their fallen counterparts. Peruvian footballer Teófilo Cubillas, who had retired the previous year, offered his services as a player to Alianza, and wore the jersey three weeks later when the championship resumed.
Shots were fired during encounters between the families of the deceased and the guards at the naval base where they appeared requesting news and explanations in the days after the accident. The Peruvian Navy sealed itself, making no statements regarding its role in the disaster. The bodies of Luis Escobar, Francisco Bustamante, Alfredo Tomasini, Gino Peña and William León were never recovered. There were rumors that player Tomasini had spent his last moments and spoken with the pilot, Villar, the only survivor; his family wished to hire a boat to aid in the search and recovery efforts, but the Navy did not allow it, closing off the accident area to all civilian traffic. In the midst of the difficult moment the country was experiencing due to the activities of the Sendero Luminoso terrorist group, the Navy's behavior led to rampant suspicion, which in turn brewed conspiracy theories.
The club members who died represented most of Alianza's footballing strength at the time; the group of players were known collectively as Los Potrillos del '87 ("The Colts of 1987"). Among the deceased was youth star Luis Escobar, the sensation of that year's tournament, who had debuted with the main team at age 14; he died at age 18. Players Francisco Bustamante and José Casanova, both in their twenties, played for the national team. Also in their early twenties, forward Alfredo Tomasini, and defenders Daniel Reyes and Tomas Farfán, lost their lives in the accident. Marcos Calderón, widely considered to be one of Peru's best coaches of all time, lost his life, as did José "el Caico" Gonzáles Ganoza, Alianza's starting keeper of 14 years. Alianza's squad was considered by the Peruvian sporting press to represent a sweeping renovation of Peruvian football. Alianza would continue to suffer during the next two decades, almost facing relegation in the year after the disaster; the team did not win a title until 1997, finally ending an 18-season drought prolonged by the loss of their star team.
Three people initially survived the crash: Alianza Lima midfielder Alfredo Tomassini, a member of the crew, and pilot Edilberto Villar. Villar declared that he escaped through a broken window and when he was swimming, he heard Tomassini was asking for help and he gave him a cylinder. He wrote in his report that Tomassini, who was an expert swimmer, showed apathy to keep swimming despite being tall and athletic. In his report, he never said that Tomassini was injured but later he told his lawyer another version in which the player had a fractured leg. By the time they were floating it was 8 p.m. and he knew that they had to resist until morning. The other survivor was a member of the crew who quit insulting the pilot then disappeared. The pilot said that the player drowned after three times that he got him out of the water. He said that he had to let him drown.
The fact that the aircraft the team chartered for the trip was owned by the Peruvian Navy was seen as a sign of the economic weakness endured by the Peruvian military at the time, as well as the lack of organization felt throughout Peruvian football. State-owned aircraft were notorious for being in disrepair, and frequently crashed.
In 2006, Peruvian television program La Ventana Indiscreta announced that the Naval Aviation Commission charged with investigating the accident had concluded that Lieutenant Edilberto Villar's lack of night flying experience, his misreading of the emergency procedures, and the aircraft's poor mechanical condition to be contributing factors to the accident. According to reporter Cecilia Valenzuela, the complete official file containing the Commission's findings was illegally secreted away to the United States by Navy Captain Edmundo Mercado Pérez, who presided over the investigation. The file remained locked in a Florida bank vault for 19 years.
According to the findings, Lieutenant Villar had logged just 5.3 hours of night flying in the 90 days preceding the accident, 3.3 of them in the previous 60 days, and had not flown at night in at least 30 days before the crash. The copilot, First Lieutenant César Morales, had logged only one hour of night flying in the 90 days preceding the accident, half an hour in the preceding 60 days, and had also not flown at night in at least 30 days. Additionally, the F27's maintenance log, which was handed to the pilot before takeoff, showed a series of mechanical defects; Lieutenant Villar initially refused to fly the aircraft out of concern for its condition.
The report, dated February 1988, also showed that halfway through the flight from Pucallpa to Lima, the crew noted a possible malfunction of the landing gear. A cockpit indicator showed that the gear had not lowered, but CORPAC officials at Lima checked with observers on the ground, who informed the pilot that he could land safely. Villar then ordered Morales to check the emergency gear lowering procedure in the manual; the relevant page was written in English, which First Lieutenant Morales was not fluent in; he mistakenly instructed the pilot to follow step 220.127.116.11, which would flash a red indicator light, rather than step 1.4.3, which would display an orange light.
In a letter from the Fokker aircraft company, dated October 16, 1986, the manufacturer noted that Lieutenant Villar had failed a special training course which could have prevented “his disorientation while operating under pressure, the excessive demand of work in a cabin”, but was granted permission to fly the aircraft regardless. Copilot César Morales had received no flight training from Fokker.
According to some sources, the flyby of the tower caused the Fokker's fuel reserves to become exhausted, and the aircraft ran out of fuel as it was repositioning for a second landing attempt.