SANTIAGO – A Chilean Air Force (FACh) Hercules C130 aircraft is feared to have crashed near Drake Passage, located between the Southern tip of South America and the edge of Antarctica.
The military transport aircraft took off at 4.55 p.m. local time Monday from the southern city of Punta Arenas and lost radio contact at 6.13 p.m. on its way to the Chilean base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva in Antarctica, according to a press release from the defense authorities.
The U.S. built airplane was carrying 38 people on board, 17 crew members and 21 passengers. The airforce said that the personnel were travelling to provide logistic support at the military base.
The military aircraft was 450 miles from its take-off location and 320 miles from the Antarctica base.
The country’s air chief, General Eduardo Mosqueira said early on Wednesday that the search area would be expanded for at least the next six days. He explained that the C130 Hercules had autonomy until 00:40h and from there on the only alternative would be to ditch and wait for rescue teams to arrive, adding that he was still optimistic about the likelihood of that scenario, although “the situation is quite complicated.”
Mosqueira also informed that two F5 fighter jets took off “to make a survey in the area”. A C-295 Navy aircraft “that has a radar system to search the surface”, in addition to “a P-111, two F-16s and an Uruguayan C-130, were later added to the aerial team hunting the missing plane. According to Mosqueira, Hercules has “two rafts” and an ELT system that indicates its satellite position, but to no avail up until the early hours of Tuesday at least.
Mosqueira further informed that the search was being conducted within a 60-mile radius from the last point of contact with the aircraft.
— Armada de Chile (@Armada_Chile) December 11, 2019
Two Chilean navy frigates are also combing the area, according to Armada de Chile.
Meanwhile, President Sebastián Piñera has told Defense minister Alberto Espina and the head of the air force to “do everything we can ” to find the plane.
Vamos con ministro @gblumel rumbo a Cerrillos.Consternados con desaparición de avión Hércules de la @FACh_Chile que viajaba con 38 pasajeros rumbo a la Antártica desde Punta Arenas.Desde ahí,junto a Ministro @mindefchile monitorearemos búsqueda y despliegue de equipos de rescate
— Sebastian Piñera (@sebastianpinera) December 10, 2019
Early on Tuesday morning, President Sebastián Piñera arrived at Cerrillos Air Base to monitor the search with Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel. The head of Defense, Alberto Espina, was already at the venue since Monday night, together with FACh commander General Arturo Merino Núñez.
Argentina, Brazil, the U.K. and Uruguay have sent planes to help with the search for the missing aircraft and people while the U.S. and Israel are providing satellite images.
Ya arribaron a la Base Aérea Chabunco, familiares de los pasajeros de la aeronave siniestrada C-130, quienes llegaron a la IVª Brigada Aérea #FACh para conocer en terreno las labores de búsqueda que se están llevando a cabo. pic.twitter.com/hNpHyyWZDT
— Fuerza Aérea de Chile (@FACh_Chile) December 11, 2019
On September 2, 2011, a Chilean air force’s CASA C-212 aircraft fell into the sea after two attempts to land under adverse conditions on Robinson Crusoe Island, the main one of the Juan Fernández archipelago, located in the South Pacific, 670 kilometers from the Chilean coast, without any of its 21 passengers surviving.
On board traveled the well-known animator of the state television channel (TVN) Felipe Camiroaga with several professionals of the same station, members of a philanthropic organization, two officials of the National Council of Culture and several members of the FACH.