AFP Punta Arenas/Chile
Rescue planes and ships yesterday searched the open sea between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica for a Chilean Air Force plane that went missing with 38 people aboard.
The C-130 Hercules cargo plane vanished after departing an air base in the southern city of Punta Arenas on Monday at 4.55pm (19.55GMT) en route to Chile’s Antarctic base of Eduardo Frei, officials said.
Contact was lost with the plane at 6.13pm (2130GMT), the Chilean Air Force said, adding that the plane had enough fuel to remain in the air for several hours beyond that time.
But seven hours after losing communication officials declared that the plane had crashed. The pilot may have carried out an emergency ocean landing, said Eduardo Mosqueira, commander of the Fourth Brigade based in Punta Arenas, early yesterday.
“All national and international air and maritime means available in the area are continuing the search” for survivors, the air force said in a statement yesterday.
Aircraft and ships from Uruguay, Argentina and Chile have joined in the search, officials said.
Chilean President Sebastian Pinera cancelled his scheduled trip to Buenos Aires yesterday for the inauguration of Argentina’s new President Alberto Fernandez to monitor rescue operations from Santiago, government spokeswoman Karla Rubilar said.
He initially said that he would travel to Punta Arenas.
“We are doing everything humanly possible to find them despite extremely difficult conditions,” Pinera said.
The plane went missing while flying over the Drake Passage, a maritime route between South America and Antarctica frequently hit by some of the world’s worst weather.
However, the weather conditions “to fly were good, which is why the trip was planned,” said Francisco Torres, head of operations of Chile’s air force.
The planes and ships are searching within a 60-mile radius from where officials lost contact with the Hercules, Torres said.
Defence Minister Alberto Espina flew to Punta Arenas with Air Force chief Arturo Merino to co-ordinate the search and rescue mission.
“Believe me, we are using all human and material means at our disposal, with planes, ships, satellites, and foreign support to try to find them,” Espina told journalists. “We know that the conditions are very difficult.” Brazil has sent a Polar exploration ship and two air force planes to join the search.
The names of those aboard the missing airplane were released yesterday.
Most were air force personnel, but also included three people from the army, two from a private construction company and an official from a Chilean university.
Many of them were travelling to carry out logistical support tasks at the Eduardo Frei base.
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