Family of Colombia crash survivor 'Neto' has mixed emotions

For the family of Brazilian soccer player Neto, as one of only six survivors of a plane crash in Colombia is known, there is joy and pain.

They feel it's a miracle that their son, 31-year-old Helio Hermito Zampier, survived. But at the same time, they are struggling with loss because 71 passengers died, including 19 members of their son's beloved team. The plane crashed on Monday night, a few miles (kilometers) from an airport in Medellin, Colombia.

"On one hand, we are very happy because our family member, Neto, is alive," said Helam Marinho Zampier, Jr., Neto's 34-year-old brother. "But at the same time, we are grieving because other lives were lost."

"I can't say that God saved my son," said Neto's father, Helam Marinho Zampier Sr., clearly searching for answers. "If that was the case, God would have saved everybody. I can say that God helped my son."

Sitting in patio of their home on the outskirts of Rio de Janeiro Thursday evening, several family members awaited more information from Neto's wife, Simone, who had flown to Colombia. She and Neto live in Chapeco, the city in southern Brazil that is home to the team, with their 9-year-old twins.

The last word was that he was in stable condition, having come through surgeries on a lung, a knee, a wrist and his head. He woke up briefly and grabbed the doctor's hand, they said, before being sedated to continue recovering.

"My son was recovered in the debris" of the plane, said the elder Zampier, who added that he hoped he could return home within a few weeks.

The family recounted how they had been awoken at 3:30 a.m. Tuesday by Neto's wife, who called with news of the crash. For hours, they were glued to the television. Grainy footage of the rescue showed repeatedly showed what looked like Neto on a stretcher, but they couldn't be sure.

While they waited, they stewed on something Simone said: Neto had told her on the day of the flight that he had had a dream his airline crashed.

By 10 a.m., they received news that he had in fact made it.

"When I found out he survived, I said: 'Thank you, God. Now I can cry,'" said Valeria Zampier, Neto's mother.

Still, there is another side.

"My heart is broken for the other mothers (of the dead)," she said.

The family said they believed that the team would rebuild.

Chapecoense reached Brazil's first division in 2014 and was in ninth place ahead of this weekend's last round of games. On its way to the continental final, the team known as Chape beat major clubs such as Argentina's San Lorenzo and Independiente.

Several teams have offered to loan players, as the tragedy has brought an outpouring of support. A memorial service for the victims is being planned for Saturday in Chapeco.

"We saw the team go from very low to very high" over the last years, said the elder Zampier. "They won't go back down."

The family also has no doubt that Neto, who was a team leader, would play soccer again. Since turning pro more than a decade ago, he had played for several teams across Brazil. He had also recovered from surgeries on one hip and his neck, injuries that many players don't overcome.

"For him, nothing is impossible," said Valeria.


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