Tomorrow Belongs to God
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On November 28, 2016, LaMia Flight 2933 left Bolivia for Colombia. It was carrying the Chapecoense football club to the Copa Sudamericana final — the first appearance in the club’s 44 year history. The plane crashed as it approached the airport. Only six of the 77 passengers survived, including three players. This is their story.
I dreamed that it would happen. A few days before we were supposed to leave for the Copa Sudamericana finals in Colombia, I had a terrible nightmare. When I woke up, I told my wife that I had been in a plane crash. I was in the airplane at night, and there was a lot of rain. Then the plane shut off. It fell from the sky. But somehow I could stand up from the wreckage. I walked out and was on a mountain at night. Everything was dark. That’s all I remembered.
On the day of the trip to the finals, I couldn’t get the nightmare out of my mind. The dream was so vivid. It was hammering in my mind. So I sent a message to my wife from the airplane. I told her to pray to God to protect me from that dream. I didn’t want to believe that it was really going to happen. But I asked her to pray for me.
And then I saw all the things from the dream really happening.…
The plane shut off.
The power went down completely.
I was wide awake.
… Then the plane fell from the sky.
It was beyond our comprehension as humans.
On the plane that day, everyone was hanging out, playing cards, playing music.
I was doing some card tricks. I always liked to do that. We were all laughing and playing pagode (Brazilian samba music). It was a group of people that were extremely happy to be making history, regardless of whether or not we became the champions. We were taking a club from a small town in Brazil to the final of the Copa Sudamericana. So we were really happy.
It was an easy flight. Until all the lights in the plane shut off. There was just silence. Suddenly, everyone sat down. People wanted to know what was happening, but the flight attendants weren’t saying anything. Then a few minutes before we fell, the flight attendant passed by and said, “Put on your seatbelts, because we’re gonna land now.”
It was very calm. Nobody announced anything on the microphone. And then we started to fall.
Not many people on earth have gone through that moment before. One second you are on your way to conquer your dreams with all your friends and everyone is happy, and then the next second all the power shuts off on the plane, and you are falling from the sky.
I only had time to pray and ask God to protect me. Inside the plane, you can’t do anything. You can’t run, you can’t cry, you can’t ask for help, you can’t ask why. All you can do is pray and leave your life in God’s hands.
From time to time, I try to remember the moment, but I can’t. I guess your brain kind of blocks the memories.
I remember my last words in the plane. I was praying, praying, praying out loud. When I saw the airplane was definitely going to fall for real … I said, “Jesus, Jesus, I read in the Bible that you made so many miracles. Please, please be merciful of us. Look after us. Help us. Help the pilot. Help us in this plane. Be merciful. Please, Jesus, help us.”
Even praying to a God who is so powerful, looking at the situation with human eyes, I knew it was impossible. My last and only resource was prayer.
A lot of people started praying out loud. Minutes before we fell, people in the front of the plane started asking what was going on. They were yelling, “Somebody say something! Give us some information!”
I remember people saying those things, and after that, I remember nothing.
And then everything goes black.
I woke up in the woods. I opened my eyes, but everything was super dark. It was raining. And it was really, really cold. I couldn’t see — I could only hear things. A lot of people were groaning, calling out for help. I started calling for help, too. But I had no idea where I was. I had no idea that I had fallen from an airplane. I just remember pleading that I didn’t want to die.
The hardest part was hearing all my friends calling for help, and I couldn’t do anything about it. I couldn’t get up. It was so dark and I couldn’t see anyone. Now, I thank God that I couldn’t see anything.
I would wake up and then shut down. Wake up and then shut down. I don’t know how much time I was awake.
Then, at some point, I could see a flashlight in the woods.
There were people yelling, “Policía Nacional, Policía Nacional!”
When the police got there, some of the people next to me who had been yelling for help before … they weren’t yelling anymore. Or their voices were very weak. It was a very, very sad moment.
When the rescue people got to me … a man named Sergeant Nelson got to me. I lifted up my arm and he held my hand.
He said, “Stay calm. You’re saved.”
Then he asked my age and my name.
I said I was the goalkeeper.
Later on, the sergeant told me that it was the most horrible scene he had ever witnessed in his life. He tried to lift me up from my back, but he couldn’t because I was feeling a lot of pain. Terrible pain. Because in the accident, I had already lost my right foot. And my left foot was just hanging by the tendons.
They picked me up and had to carry me up a muddy hill. It was very difficult ground, and it was really dangerous because pieces of the plane were everywhere, and they were extremely sharp. Those rescuers, they are heroes.
I remember asking for water, and they gave me a drop of water, and then I blacked out.
When I woke up in the hospital, I didn’t remember anything about the accident. My wife told me that the first thing I said to her when I woke up from the coma was….
“Deus estava comigo o tempo todo.”
“Deus estava comigo o tempo todo.”
I said it twice.
“God was with me the whole time.”
“God was with me the whole time.”
But I didn’t remember anything. The doctors couldn’t tell me about the accident yet. They wanted me to recover first.
I tried to recognize the place that I was in. I knew I was in a hospital, but I didn’t recognize it. The workers in the hospital, I would look at them, and I didn’t know them. They were speaking Spanish. I was very confused.
When I saw the Chapecoense doctor, that’s when I remembered that we were supposed to be playing in the finals.
I said, “Doc, what happened at the game? Did I get hurt?”
He said, “Yeah, Neto, you got hurt in the game.”
I said, “What was the score?”
He said, “I don’t know. You got hurt really bad, and I came straight here to see you.”
I believed him. I thought the game was still going on, and I was upset with God. I was thinking, How can you take the final away from me? I need to be there with my brothers.
My father says that when I woke up in the hospital the first thing I said to him was, “Is it true?”
And my father, from the doctor’s advice, just said, “The airplane had to make an emergency landing, but you, Neto and Follmann are O.K.”
At that moment, I thought that me, Neto and Follmann were the only ones who got hurt. I thought the game was going to be the next day. In my mind, I was still concerned about the game.
I was sedated, going in and out of sleep. And I have this memory of my girlfriend and my father showing me videos of my friends and family on their phones. They were all cheering for me and telling me they were praying for me. That’s when it all felt like a dream.
The next day, more doctors arrived, and they came to talk to me. They were saying that they wanted to stop sedating me, but that I had to remain calm. I said O.K. That’s when they told me that the airplane had actually crashed. It wasn’t an emergency landing. Only six people had survived. Me, Jackson, Neto, a journalist and two flight attendants.
That’s when the world fell apart for me. My wife tells me that I spent the entire day just staring into space. The first impression that came to my mind was, This is nothing but a nightmare. It’s a lie. I am having a bad nightmare. Soon, I will wake up.
One day, I woke up in the intensive care unit, and nothing made sense to me. I was looking at my body. Everything was cut. My ear was hanging by the skin. I thought, It’s not possible that I got hurt in the game. Something is wrong.
So I was laying there thinking of all the things that could have happened to me. I actually asked the doctor, “What was the size of the guy who hurt me? He must have been a very big dude.”
So many things went through my mind. I thought maybe the fans had invaded the field and assaulted us. I thought maybe I even got run over by a car in the parking lot before the game. But I never thought about the airplane. How could I possibly imagine that?
I was going in and out of sleep. One time I woke up and saw that my father was sitting in the chair crying. That’s when I knew they were lying to me.
Then one day all the doctors came into the room. My mother and father were there. My sister. A psychologist. A pastor. They told me that they had something to tell me.
My father said to me, “Remember that dream you had?”
I said, “Of course I remember the dream. I told my wife. I was in the airplane at night. There was a lot of rain. The plane shut off. It fell. I could stand up from the wreckage. I walked out and was on a mountain at night. Everything was dark.”
Something strange happened when I started talking about my dream.
The psychologist left the room crying.
My mother was crying.
The doctor said, “Well, that wasn’t a dream, Neto. That was all reality. The Chapecoense plane crashed.”
That was one of the toughest moments of my life. I tried not to believe it. I thought he was crazy. This doesn’t exist. What are you saying to me?
Then I started thinking, O.K., if this actually happened, and I am alive, then everyone is alive.
I said, “How is everyone then? Where are they?”
The doctor said, “Only you, Alan and Follmann are alive.”
I couldn’t believe it. It was not possible. I was thinking, If I am alive, how are all my friends gone? How can I survive a plane crash? This doesn’t make any sense. If I fell from the airplane, I am dead. This is not real.
The doctor said, “You are not supposed to be alive. It is only because of God that you are here.”
What I can tell you about being in a coma is that it seems like I could hear people talking in Spanish. I had this feeling that I was missing hearing a familiar voice. I wanted to hear a voice of someone I knew — to have some comfort by my side. So the moment when I woke up in intensive care and saw my father and mother and my fiancée there in the room with me, that moment was so powerful. It was what I had been missing.
I had been in a coma for four days, and my head was very confused. As far as the accident, my brain kind of blocked it out. I didn’t turn the TV on. My family didn’t say anything, and I didn’t want to know. I had an idea of what had happened, but I thought that way more people must have survived. Like it was a small accident or something. Maybe an emergency landing, and everyone was O.K.
I just remember the psychologist from the hospital came into the room at some point and said, “Your plane crashed and it exploded. Everyone died. You survived, but you won’t be able to play football again.”
When he said that, all these flashes started to come back to me. I thought of all my friends, and it was very, very sad.
Then my family told me that I had lost my right leg, and that I would never be able to play football again.
When they said that, my first reaction was, Better my leg than my life. Thank God I am still here.
Later on, I found out that Alan and Neto had made it, and that gave me extra motivation to keep fighting.
I was the last one to be discovered. I was under the wreckage for eight hours. Later on, the rescuers told me everything that had happened. In the early morning hours, most of the rescue people had already left the crash site. The police were still there just to protect the bodies and collect our belongings. All of a sudden, one of the officers said, “Hey, I hear something….”
He went to see what it was. He said he thought he could hear someone moaning.
The other cop was like, “It’s impossible. It’s been eight hours.”
But he insisted, “No, no, no. Stay quiet. I heard something.”
And they heard me moaning.
Then they all rushed toward the sound.
The officer got his cell phone and tried to shine the light on all the wreckage. They started pulling off tree limbs and parts of the plane. The cop saw my face, and I was in really bad shape. I was broken.
They freed me from the wreckage and put me in a truck. It took an hour to get me off the mountain to a small health clinic. My eyes were rolled back in my head, all white. They said that I looked dead. But somehow, I was still breathing.
They told me later on that no one thought I was going to make it. When I woke up from the coma, the nurse who had been in the ambulance with me on the mountain came to visit me. She was standing by the door in disbelief, looking at me. When she hugged me, her whole body was shaking. She was feeling my arms and my shoulders and saying, “No credo, no credo.”
“I cannot believe it, I cannot believe it.”
That’s when I realized how impossible it was. It was a miracle that I was still alive after they found me like that.
I was a couple of millimeters away from becoming a quadriplegic. My marrow was being pressured by the bone, but it didn’t penetrate it. If the rescuers had tried to rush to grab me and made a mistake, the bone could have gone through my marrow, and that could have been it. So many things happened to save me. I owe my life to a lot of people.
The doctor who operated on me after the crash is one of the best surgeons in South America. Out of all the doctors in South America, he just happened to be in Colombia at the time.
And, of course, I happened to change seats on the airplane because of Jakson.
I called Alan to come sit next to me on the plane. We were great friends for more than 10 years. We lived together pretty much. Everywhere we went, we went together. But on the flights to games, Alan liked to sit in the back so that he could stretch across the three seats and go to sleep.
So on the flight to Colombia, Alan was in the back like usual. I was sitting by myself, so I called him to come. I said his nickname, “Mouse.” Because he’s so skinny, he looks like a mouse.
I said, “Hey, Mouse! Come sit with me. Let’s hear some music. Come on, bro!”
Alan said, “No, no, I’m gonna sit back here. I want to sleep.”
I said, “Come on, Mouse! Come on!”
I don’t know why, but I just kept insisting. So he finally came.
Then 30 minutes later, it all happened.
Seeing all that happened, there’s no explanation for it. It’s the impossible. It’s a miracle. In Colombia, I came out of the hospital walking. When I got back to Chapecó, my family were all waiting for me. It was a very emotional moment.
For me, I didn’t want to have my father carrying me to the bathroom, carrying me to the sofa to sit down. I remember I got to São Paulo with my family, and I could barely stand up without tremendous pain. And I said to the doctor, “I don’t mean to disrespect your job, but if there’s anything else I can do to walk again, even if I have to go through a lot of pain, tell me. Let’s go. I will do it. I want to come back walking into Chapecó.”
When I started walking again, in front of my parents, that was the most emotional moment.
What moved me the most is when I saw my children. I have twins. One boy, one girl. They’re 10 years old. After the crash, my wife left them in Brazil with her sister. So I had not seen them until they sent me back to Brazil. When they came to visit me in the hospital, their faces were….
They were stunned. My body was so skinny, and I had scars everywhere.
They were looking at me like I was a ghost.
I said, “Are you guys not gonna give daddy a hug?”
It was the first time that they gave me a hug without saying anything. They were crying for a long time. Five or 10 minutes. They couldn’t speak. They just hugged me and cried. It was a cry of relief.
Our father is in bad shape. But he’s alive. He came back.
I thought of my friends who were not alive anymore, and I thought of their children. It was the most emotional situation of my life.
The most difficult moment was when it started to sink in, what had really happened. When I started getting better, and I was not sedated anymore, I started really noticing that the people who I loved weren’t there anymore. I was very close with Danilo, our goalkeeper, and his wife Letícia, and their son, Lorenzo. When I truly realized that Danilo was gone … it was the most painful moment for me. It is indescribable. Danilo was a really special guy in my life, and I think of him every single day.
One thing we do not want — and we will keep repeating this — we don’t want people to forget our friends who have left us. The people who passed away, they are heroes. Losing so many friends … people that were sons, that were fathers, that were brothers … it’s really hard to understand. Why would this all happen? It could have been avoided.
The company who operated the plane were cutting the fuel to the minimum over and over again. Looking at the facts, we can see that sooner or later, this was going to happen. They did it so many times with other teams.
The company wanted to save a little bit of money, and they ended up taking the lives of a lot of people. People always talk about the pilot, and how he made a mistake. And he did. That’s a fact. But I think there were a lot of people involved. Like, who authorized takeoff with an airplane that didn’t have enough fuel? They were going around the regulations. I think it was error after error, because no one could authorize something like that unless they’re gaining something from it.
I really wanted God to put honest people and competent people on this case to investigate what really happened. Because all those involved have to pay for what happened. Just because the pilot is dead doesn’t mean there is justice.
Unfortunately, because of human greed … you know, the Bible says: The love for money is the beginning of all bad things.
It still seems like it’s not true. It seems like they all went on a trip, and they’re going to come back. Me, Neto and Alan talk a lot about that. Everything is going to be normal again. We’re going to come back and all play together again.
I remember a few months ago, Neto and I were playing video games. We were talking about the way some of our teammates played the game. I said, “Oh man, you remember how Sérgio Manoel used to play like this and that?”
And Neto said to me, “Man, it seems like those guys are still here.”
And then we got very sad. Those are the moments when you realize that they are really gone, and it is very painful.
Even if I die, I know that I am going to a better place. After this, I believe that God is going to guide me. And for everyone who is not here, God is taking care of them now.
It’s only been eight months since the accident. You can’t find an explanation — for the crash, for us surviving. I have learned to stop searching for the answers. After five months of rehab, Alan is going back to play with Chape. He’s going to play against Messi tomorrow. Neto was back on the field training really, really well before he injured his knee.
And me? Well, I lost my leg, yes. But I’m walking. I’m driving. I’m living a happy life. I believe that if you have a good attitude, if you still remember how to smile, then everything will be O.K. I didn’t lose the taste for living. Especially after everything that happened. I have always woken up with a smile, ever since I was a little kid who dreamed of being a goalkeeper. And thank God, I was able to live that dream for 12 years. I was given that blessing in life.
I live the moment. I live for today. Tomorrow belongs to God.
To me, celebrating life is the most important thing. If the crash taught me a lesson, it’s that I don’t know what’s going to happen in 10 minutes. I don’t know what’s going to happen when I leave this room. My message to anyone listening is to chase your dreams. If you really want to do something, go do it. Live life to the fullest. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring.
Before we got on that airplane to Colombia, I dreamed that we would come back to Chapecó after the finals. I imagined everyone on the streets yelling, “We are the champions!” Everyone was so happy, and there was so much love. I imagined myself being on top of a big fire truck, celebrating in the parade with the entire city.
When I came back to Chapecó after the accident, I had to go on a flight from Colombia to get back to Brazil, and I was very scared. When we landed, I was crying. It was all very overwhelming.
Then we left the airplane and went into the airport, it was full of people there to support us. We went to the hospital, and it was full of people. Everywhere, there was love. It was surreal. It was very emotional.
When you come back from what we experienced, it changes you. It marks you forever. But if I am being honest, my mind is the same. I still see the good in the world. The crash taught me to appreciate the little joys in life.
I remember when I was in the hospital, I was in diapers. I couldn’t take a shower by myself for months. The nurses would come and wipe me down with towels. When I got better, and I was finally able to get into the shower by myself, I felt the water on my skin for the first time, and I almost started weeping.
It felt like the waters of the Caribbean. I have never felt anything like that before.
When I kicked a football again for the first time since the crash, I felt like a child again.
I was supposed to die that day. I said my last words out loud. God gave me a second chance, and I will do my best to honor him, and to honor all my friends who are gone.