Chilean air force plane crashes in Pacific

Sep 03 2011

Twenty-one people are feared dead after a Chilean air force plane crashed in the Pacific Ocean on its way to the remote Juan Fernandez islands.

Chilean Defence Minister Andres Allamand said the Casa-212 plane had twice tried to land at the islands' airport before going missing.

The islands' mayor said conditions were rough and windy, and passengers' luggage had been spotted in the water.

A TV crew was on board, including popular presenter Felipe Camiroaga.

He had been flying to the islands with a five-strong crew from Chile's national TV programme Buenos Dias a Todos - Good Morning Everyone - to film a piece on reconstruction projects after a magnitude-8.8 earthquake and tsunami devastated the islands in February 2010.

The air force earlier said that as the plane was "getting closer to the island, radio communication with the airplane was lost", prompting a search effort by the navy and air force.

'Hard blow'

Mayor Leopoldo Gonzalez told state television TVN that some wreckage had been spotted, suggesting that the plane had crashed.

"We assume that there was an accident and that there are no survivors," he said, adding that clothing, passengers' suitcases and some sandals had been found in waters about one kilometre (0.6 mile) from the islands' landing strip.

Mr Allamand, however, said the plane was still listed as "missing".

He said a navy frigate had been sent with a helicopter to carry out search and rescue work, and that a Hercules 130 plane was due to join the search.

Chilean President Sebastian Pinera said that his thoughts were with the families of those on board the plane, which had taken off from the capital Santiago at 14.00 (17.00 GMT) on Friday and lost contact with air traffic control some four hours later.

"I empathise with the anguish and uncertainty the relatives the 21 passengers aboard the plane, which is presumed to have gone down, are living through at this moment.

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Reproduced under licence from BBC News © 2011 BBC

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