A military cargo plane with the Chilean Air Force went missing shortly after takeoff on Monday.
Now, debris found in the ocean near its last known location is believed to be all that remains of the aircraft, CBS News reported.
Military plane goes missing
The C-130 Hercules cargo and transport plane took off from a base in southern Chile on Monday for a regular maintenance flight that would take it to a base in Antarctica. Unfortunately, contact with the plane — which was carrying 17 crew members and 21 passengers, three of whom were civilians — was lost about 70 minutes after takeoff.
A search ensued, and on Wednesday, a plane assisting in the efforts found spotted debris in the area where the plane went missing, a stretch of water between the tip of South America and a peninsula jutting north from Antarctica known as Drake’s Passage. According to Chilean Air Force General Eduardo Mosqueira, the floating debris field was located approximately 19 miles from where the plane had last been contacted by radio.
The search for the missing plane had just recently been expanded to cover roughly 70,000 square miles when the discovery was made. Assisting Chile in the search effort were planes, satellites, and ships from Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, and the United States.
— Fuerza Aérea de Chile (@FACh_Chile) December 11, 2019
An initial analysis of the debris will be conducted to determine if it truly is the remains of the missing cargo plane. In the meantime, a Brazilian ship equipped with special deep-scanning apparatus will move to the area to see if anything else can be found in the depths of the ocean.
A dangerous area
CBS noted that the area referred to as Drake’s Passage — so named after being charted by the famous English explorer Sir Francis Drake — is known to be especially treacherous, both for ships and aircraft passing through the region.
That heightened danger is due to rapidly shifting weather patterns and systems that develop in Antarctica, according to Ed Coleman, a pilot and chair of the Safety Science Department at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Arizona. The area is unique in that air masses often converge quickly and without warning, causing storms with powerful winds and ocean waves as high as 20 feet.
“You can have a clear sky one minute, and in a short time later storms can be building up making it a challenge,” Coleman explained. “That causes bigger swells and rougher air.”
Sadly, due to the exceptionally inhospitable temperature and weather in the area, it is virtually certain that nobody survived the plane crash.
Hopefully, the search effort will nonetheless positively identify the debris and perhaps even recover more of the wreckage, if only to grant the families of the victims some sense of closure following their tragic loss.