BFF-39 Rescuers search for Chilean plane missing near Antarctica

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CHILE-ACCIDENT-MILITARY 2ND LEAD

Rescuers search for Chilean plane missing near Antarctica

PUNTA ARENAS, Chile, Dec 10, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – Rescue planes and ships on
Tuesday 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 airbase in the
southern city of Punta Arenas Monday at 4:55 pm (19:55 GMT) en route to
Chile’s Antarctic base of Eduardo Frei, officials said.

Contact was lost with the plane at 6:13 pm (2130 GMT), 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 airplane pilot may have carried out an emergency ocean landing, said
Eduardo Mosqueira, commander of the Fourth Brigade based in Punta Arenas,
early Tuesday.

“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 Tuesday.

Airplanes and ships from Uruguay, Argentina and Chile had joined in the
search, officials said.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera cancelled his scheduled trip to Buenos
Aires on Tuesday for the inauguration of Argentina’s new president Alberto
Fernandez to monitor rescue operations from the capital Santiago, government
spokeswoman Karla Rubilar said.

He initially said that he would travel to Punta Arenas.

– Good weather conditions –

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 in an area with a 60 mile radius of
where officials lost contact with the Hercules, Torres said.

Defense Minister Alberto Espina was to monitor the search and rescue
mission, which was underway using aircraft and navy vessels.

The names of those aboard the missing airplane were released Tuesday. 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.

Air force officials said they were in contact with the families of those on
the plane.

The plane did have an emergency positioning system, but it did not appear
to be working during the early morning search, said Mosqueira.

The disappearance of the C-130 Hercules came as Chile struggles with nearly
two months of protests over social and economic inequality, as well as
against an entrenched political elite.

The nearly two-month crisis and its violent demonstrations have led to 26
deaths and more than 12,000 injuries, according to the Organization of
American States.

In September 2011, a Chilean military plane with 21 people aboard crashed
near Robinson Crusoe Island, far in the Pacific Ocean some 700 kilometers
west of the South American mainland. A popular TV show host was among the
victims.

BSS/AFP/ARS/1958 hrs