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Alan Ruschel was one of six survivors of a plane crash last month in Colombia that killed 71 people, including 19 members of his Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense.
The 27-year-old defender spoke to the media Saturday for the first time since the Nov. 28 tragedy, breaking into tears as he recounted the harrowing tale of how a chance change of seats right before takeoff saved his life:
“(Club director) Cadu Gaucho asked me to sit further forward and let the journalists sit together at the back,” he said. “I didn’t want to but then I saw Jakson Follman and he insisted I sit beside him. Only God can explain why I survived the accident. He grabbed me and gave me a second chance.”
The team was en route to Medellin to play in the Copa Sudamericana final when the plane crashed into a nearby mountain range. The disaster claimed the lives of most of the Chapecoense team, including its directors and staff.
Follman, the goalkeeper Ruschel was seated next to, also survived the crash but had to have part of his leg amputated.
“I don’t remember anything about the accident,” Ruschel continued. “When they told me what happened it seemed like a dream, a nightmare. ... As a lesson, this tragedy teaches you that you have to keep living."
The pilot of the Bolivian-run plane has reportedly been accused of taking off without enough fuel for the entire flight.
In the wake of the tragedy, the South American Football Federation declared Chapecoense the Copa Sudamericana 2016 champion.