Chile’s Air Force said on Tuesday one of its cargo planes had crashed with 38 people on board after going missing in an isolated area between South America and the Antarctic, adding that a rescue team was searching for survivors.
The Hercules C130 aircraft took off at 4:55 p.m. on Monday from the southern city of Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia and was heading to a base in Antarctica, but operators lost contact with the plane shortly after 6:00 p.m.
The Air Force said in a statement it had yet to locate the military cargo plane or determine whether there were any survivors, but said it had concluded the plane must have crashed given the number of hours it had been missing.
The plane had been carrying 17 crew members and 21 passengers, the Air Force said, adding that its rescue team was scouring the area “where it lost communication with the plane, with the goal of rescuing possible survivors.”
The crash comes at a turbulent time for Chile and President Sebastian Pinera, who has been grappling with rising discontent that has sparked almost two months of riots in capital city Santiago and heaped pressure on his government.
“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the 38 crew members and passengers of the FACh (Air Force) C-130 plane,” Pinera said on Tuesday, adding that he would cancel a planned trip to Argentina, where he had been expected to attend the Tuesday inauguration of incoming President Alberto Fernandez.
The region where the plane disappeared is a vast, largely untouched ocean wilderness of penguin-inhabited ice sheets off the edge of the South American continent.
The plane had been traveling to perform logistical support tasks for the maintenance of Chilean facilities at the Antarctic base, the Air Force said.