Floating debris found in search for missing Chilean plane

Paulina Abramovich, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Dec 12 2019 08:39 AM

Relatives of passengers on board Chile's Air Force Hercules C-130 aircraft, which crashed over a remote stretch of frigid sea between South America and the Antarctic, arrive from Santiago to an Air Force base in Punta Arenas city, Chile December 11, 2019. Joel Estay, Reuters

PUNTA ARENAS, Chile - Rescuers hunting for a Chilean air force plane that went missing as it headed for Antarctica with 38 people aboard have recovered floating debris and personal items that may be from the C-130, Chile's military and Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro said Wednesday.

The Chilean-flagged Antarctic Endeavour located debris that "could be part of the remains of the sponges of the internal fuel tanks," Air Force Commander Eduardo Mosqueira told a press conference.

Mosquiera said the wreckage was located 30 kilometers (20 miles) from the plane's last known position when it disappeared from radar screens at 6:13 pm (2130 GMT Monday.

The C-130 Hercules cargo plane had been heading to Chile's Eduardo Frei base, officials said.

"We are going to carry out corresponding checks and... we are going to be able to determine if they really are from the C-130," Mosquiera said in Punta Arenas, the plane's departure point.

He said the recovered pieces of wreckage would reach Punta Arenas "tomorrow or in the next few days."

Bolsonaro tweeted that a Brazilian navy vessel, the Polar ship Admiral Maximiano, had recovered more wreckage as well as personal items that may belong to the passengers.

"The parts of the plane and the objects were found approximately 280 nautical miles (518 kilometers) from Ushuaia in Argentina," Bolsonaro said.

"The Brazilian navy ship remains in the search area in coordinated actions with the Chilean authorities and two boats from the ship continue collecting remains," he added.

Search vessels and planes from the United States, Uruguay and Argentina were also combing nearly 1,000 square kilometers (385 square miles) around the plane's last known position in the Drake Passage, a tempestuous body of water south of Cape Horn and north of Antarctica.

Mosquiera said earlier that a decision had been taken to widen the search zone as visibility and conditions were favorable. 

"We still don't have any new information, but we are making every effort to be able to find the plane," government spokeswoman Karla Rubilar told Chilean radio earlier Wednesday.

ANXIOUS RELATIVES

The Vatican said Pope Francis was following the situation closely and keeping the families of the missing in his prayers. 

Family members were gathering in Punta Arenas, 3,000 kilometers south of the capital Santiago, to be close to the rescue effort.

Most of those on the missing plane are air force personnel, but also aboard were three people from the army, two from a private construction company and an official from a Chilean university.

Many of them were traveling to carry out logistical support tasks -- including work on a floating fuel pipeline and anti-corrosive treatment of machinery and other facilities at the base, Chile's largest in the Antarctic.