Chile says no hope of survivors from missing plane

by Miguel SANCHEZ
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A piece of debris believed to be from the missing plane is shown in this Chilean Air Force photo

Chile confirmed Thursday that a military plane with 38 people aboard crashed in the sea, with no hope of finding survivors.

"The condition of the plane wreckage that was found makes it practically impossible that there are survivors from this air accident," Air Force chief Arturo Merino told a news conference in the southern port of Punta Arenas.

Merino, flanked by Defense Minister Alberto Espina and other officials, confirmed reports that remains recovered from the sea were "most likely to be body parts of those traveling on the C-130."

Parts of the aircraft's landing gear, fuel system, wing and a wheel were among the recovered debris, along with two bags, a backpack and a shoe.

Search teams have been combing waters off the southern tip of South America for any sign of the C-130 Hercules transport plane, which disappeared late Monday.

Thirty-eight people -- 21 passengers and 17 crew -- were on board the plane headed to the Eduardo Frei base across the Drake Passage in the Antarctic.

Most were 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 at the base, Chile's largest in the Antarctic.

- 'Tragedy' -

President Sebastian Pinera expressed his condolences on Twitter and said his government would do "everything possible to find answers to this tragedy."

Officials said the debris was located in a 12-square-mile (30-square-kilometer) area in the Drake Passage, where some 23 aircraft and 14 ships have been concentrating the search effort.

Authorities say they are keeping an open mind as to the cause of the accident.

"When 38 of your compatriots die, the least that can be done is to find the truth," said Espina.

The plane made no emergency signal prior to its disappearance, indicating the circumstances of the accident were likely abrupt.

"The lack of distress signals or emergency location transmissions of life rafts aboard the aircraft indicates that an event occurred during the flight that was potentially catastrophic in nature," air industry specialist Stephen Wright from Finland's Tampere University told AFP.

The maintenance history of the aircraft will also be under intense scrutiny, since it was manufactured in 1978, he said.

Authorities in Punta Arenas started taking DNA samples from family members to help identify victims' remains as they are brought ashore.

Authorities said wreckage was located around 16 nautical miles (30 kilometers) from the plane's last known position when it disappeared from radar screens in the early evening Monday.

A Brazilian navy vessel has also recovered wreckage, some 280 nautical miles from the far southern Argentinian port of Ushuaia, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said on Twitter.

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

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

A piece of debris believed to be from the missing plane is shown in this Chilean Air Force photo

The location of the wreckage found in the search effort for the missing plane

Chilean Air Force General Commander Arturo Merino (R) speaks during a press conference at the Chabunco Military base in Punta Arenas