PUNTA ARENAS, Chile (AP) — The Chilean Air Force says it has recovered debris believed to be from a military transport plan carrying 38 people that vanished days earlier en route to Antarctica.
Air Force Gen. Eduardo Mosqueira says “sponge” material was found floating roughly 30 kilometers from the place the C-130 Hercules last had radio contact.
It had left southern Chile and was flying over Drake Pass, a notoriously turbulent area.
Mosqueira said Wednesday the debris will be analyzed to see if it corresponds to the missing plane. He says the process could take up to two days to confirm.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
Chilean officials said Wednesday they have expanded the search for a military plane that vanished with 38 people aboard on a flight to Antarctica, and are now scanning an area of roughly 70,000 square miles.
Air Force Gen. Eduardo Mosqueira said the search area now covers an area of about 400 by 450 kilometers (250 by 280 miles) and he said improved visibility was helping the crews of searchers using planes, satellites and vessels from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and the U.S. as well as Chile.
The C-130 Hercules took off Monday afternoon from a base in far-southern Chile on a regular maintenance flight for an Antarctic base. Radio contact was lost 70 minutes later.
The search area extends over treacherous waters of Drake’s Passage between the tip of South America and Antarctica. The plane was carrying 17 crew members and 21 passengers, three of them civilians.
Ed Coleman, a pilot and chair of the Safety Science Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona, said rapidly changing weather in the Antarctic makes it a difficult place for pilots.
Air masses converge there, driving storms with powerful wind gusts, while stirring the sea with swells 6 meters (20 feet) or bigger, he said. Flying becomes challenging, and making a smooth sea landing nearly impossible, he said.
“You can have a clear sky one minute, and in a short time later storms can be building up making it a challenge,” he said. “That causes bigger swells and rougher air.”
The inhospitable Antarctic is equally formidable to rescuers, who have to respond quickly to pull any survivors from the cold, rough waters, he said.
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