Chilean plane with 38 passengers bound for Antarctica declared ‘crashed’

Chilean transport aircraft headed for Antarctica and carrying 38 passengers and crew is considered to have “crashed” because it would have run out of fuel by now and could not fly any longer, the Director of Operations of the Chilean Air Force, Brigadier General Francisco Torres said today.

A search and rescue operation was launched after a military transport plane had gone missing, losing radio contact on its way to a base in Antarctica.

There is “always a possibility” that it has managed to land somewhere, Brigadier General Francisco Torres said, adding that the plane did not send any distress calls.

The C-130 Hercules transport craft took off the Chabunco Air Base in the city of Punta Arenas in Chile’s far south at 4:55pm local time on Monday, and completely went off the radar about an hour later. It was flying on a routine support and maintenance mission to the Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva Air Base in Antarctica, and had 38 people on board.

President Sebastian Pinera declared a search and rescue operation with the focus on finding potential survivors. The whereabouts of the plane are still unknown.

The Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva Air Base is the largest of Chile’s four permanent installations on the icy continent, where the country claims a slice of territory covering the South Shetland Islands, the Antarctic Peninsula, and several other adjacent islands.

The base is supported by the tiny commune of Villa Las Estrellas, which has a population of about 150 in the summer – between October and February – and only 80 for the rest of the year.