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A Chilean Military Plane With 38 People On Board Crashed While On The Way To A Base In Antarctica

The search is on for clues after a Chilean military plane with 38 people on board crashed on its way to Antarctica on Monday afternoon. The plane, a Hercules C-130 transport, made the last contact at 6:13 p.m. which was around an hour and five minutes after it initially took off. It was 390 miles into its journey to the Base Presidente Eduardo Frei Montalva, a Chilean base on in the northern region of the frozen continent, according to a statement issued by the Chilean Air Force. Seven hours after the plane last made contact, the Chilean air force declared it lost, with no definitive reason as to why it had disappeared. 

According to the New York Times, the aircraft was carrying 17 crew members and 21 passengers, which included a university student and two Chilean civilians who worked for an engineering and construction firm that was contracted to do maintenance work on the Antarctic base.

“The chances are difficult but I think it would be profoundly wrong to lose heart at this moment when we are doing everything humanly possible and with all our energy and determination,” Defence Minister Alberto Espina told reporters. “The air force has provided a thorough investigation to clarify the facts with complete transparency.”

The Chilean military has deployed fighter jets in an expansion of its search. Uruguayan and Argentine air forces have also joined in on efforts.

Chilean officials are now conducting an all-out search for the plane and any clues that might lead them to why the military aircraft might have crashed. Officials said that the plane had taken off in favorable conditions Monday afternoon from the southern city of Punta Arenas, though the area is known for rapidly changing conditions that include freezing temperatures and chilly winds. According to a BBC report, Air Force General Eduardo Mosqueira told the local press that the plane didn’t activate its emergency signal and proposed the idea that the pilot might have tried to land on the frigid waters. 

The Chilean military is now in the midst of search and rescue efforts that include four ships and 10 planes. Joining this mission are the Uruguayan and Argentine air forces, who have each contributed a C-130 plane to help. The United States has also lent a hand by providing two satellite orbits to capture images over the South Pacific Ocean.

The plane is said to have crashed in Drake’s Passage, the sea in the middle of the southern tip of South America and Antarctica, which is known for its severe weather conditions. The area has been known to produce freezing temperatures and harsh storms that have caused other aircrafts to avoid flying through during these conditions. 

“The plane is presumed to have crashed, given that the amount of fuel and the plane’s autonomy had already run out,” said Chilean Air Force General Francisco Torres in a press conference, according to CNN.

South American leaders, including Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, have all expressed their condolences to those lost on the plane and their loved ones. 

This tragedy has prompted an immediate response from Chilean President Sebastián Piñera, who canceled a trip to Argentina, where he was expected to attend the swearing-in ceremony of President-elect Alberto Fernandez. Instead, Piñera headed to the Cerrillos airbase in Santiago, Chile where he joined rescue operations and families of the plane’s passengers gathered. He reiterated the message that the Chilean government would spare no effort to find the plane.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the 38 crew members and passengers of the FACh (Air Force) C-130 plane,” Piñera wrote on Twitter. “With the help of many we are making every effort humanly possible in the search operation for the plane.”

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro also tweeted words of support saying that his government is doing all that is possible to help with search efforts. “We offer Chile support for the search and rescue operations of the Chilean plane, which disappeared in the Drake Strait with 38 people on board. We have already spoken to President Piñera and ask God that all those involved will be successful in the rescue.”

The plane crash comes at a difficult time for Chile and President Piñera, who has overseen a country displeased with socioeconomic disparity, vast systemic corruption, and other government abuses. All of this has led to almost two months of riots in the capital city of Santiago. 

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