SANTIAGO – Human remains have been found near the area where an Antarctica-bound Chilean military plane with 38 people on board recently disappeared, a regional official told EFE on Wednesday.
The announcement came shortly after the Chilean Air Force (FACh) reported finding sponge remains from the aircraft floating in the sea at the same location, the Drake Passage that separates South America from Antarctica, whose waters are considered some of the most turbulent on the planet.
“Today in the afternoon, the Air Force gave us some news that has left us dismayed: it was about finding bodies in the Drake Passage and also part of the fuselage that corresponds to the damaged plane,” Jose Fernandez Dübrock, the administrative head of Chile’s southern Magallanes Region, told EFE.
The Hercules C-130 aircraft had taken off at 4.55 pm on Monday from the Chabunco air base in the capital of Magallanes, Punta Arenas, for a flight that was supposed to take three hours until reaching the Antarctic base of Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva.
Fernandez said he had received the information from the FACh, though the military branch had yet to make any public announcement regarding the new discovery.
He added that Chilean Defense Minister Alberto Espina would visit Punta Arenas to take stock of the situation, though he clarified that this visit had been scheduled before the recent finding.
Speaking to the media, the mayor revealed that the remains of the occupants of the missing plane was found by the Brazilian ship Almirante Maximiano, which has been assisting in the search operations.
The Almirante Maximiano is an ice-strengthened oceanographic research ship used by Brazil for scientific purposes in Antarctica. It was among the vessels closest to the spot where the Chilean plane lost contact before going missing.
The Hercules was carrying 17 members of the crew and 21 passengers, including three civilians and three service members of the armed forces.
Air force flight controllers lost contact with the US-made aircraft at 6.13 pm Monday, when it was about 500 kilometers (311 miles) away from its destination.
“It is believed the aircraft has crashed, because it exceeded its flight range in relation to its fuel load,” the air force chief of operations, Gen. Francisco Torres, said Tuesday at a press conference.
The four-engine turboprop would have exhausted its fuel by 12.40 am Tuesday, he said.
The 21 passengers were traveling to the Frei Montalva base to inspect the fuel pipeline supplying the installation and to carry out an anti-corrosion treatment on the conduit and other facilities.
Families of the people aboard the ill-fated flight traveled Wednesday to Punta Arenas.
This week’s crash was Chile’s worst aviation accident since 2011, when a plane carrying relief supplies to the Juan Fernandez Islands crashed with 21 people.