RIO DE JANEIRO – The investigation into a plane crash in Colombia that left 71 dead took a surprising turn Tuesday when authorities announced that a Bolivian aviation official has sought help in neighboring Brazil.
Brazilian authorities said that a Bolivian woman presented herself at the border city of Corumba. Federal police investigator Sergio Luis Macedo told The Associated Press that Celia Castedo had applied for refugee status, and that a decision could take up to a year. He said that until then, she will be free to move around Brazil as long as she keeps in touch with authorities.
According to a statement from Brazilian prosecutors, Castedo worked at the Bolivian aviation agency that approved the ill-fated flight Monday between Santa Cruz, Bolivia, and Medellin, Colombia.
Meanwhile, in Bolivia, a top government official said Castedo was potentially evading justice. Government minister Carlos Romero said Castedo had not left Bolivia legally and she should be immediately deported from Brazil.
"What she has done is very serious," Romero told reporters. "It's a way of escaping the judicial system."
Still, Romero also said Castedo was not being persecuted in Bolivia.
Messages sent to various social media accounts apparently belonging to Castedo were not immediately returned.
In the crash's wake, several high-ranking aviation officials have been suspended in Bolivia.
According to flight plan documents circulating widely in Bolivian media and reviewed by the AP, Castedo noted several irregularities in the flight that crashed, including not having a comfortable margin of fuel for a direct flight from Santa Cruz to Medellin. The authenticity of those documents couldn't be immediately verified.
In total, 71 people died, including 19 members of the Chapecoense soccer club. The team was headed to a match in Colombia.
Associated Press writer Paola Flores in La Paz, Bolivia, contributed to this report.