PUNTA ARENAS, CHILE – Chile confirmed Thursday that human remains and debris found by search ships are from a military plane reported missing with 38 people aboard, and the chances of finding survivors is “practically impossible.”
“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 human remains had also been recovered from the sea.
“Along with the parts of the plane that have been found, human remains have been found that are most likely to be body parts of those traveling on the C-130,” Merino said.
Search teams have been combing waters off the southern tip of South America for any sign of the C-130 Hercules transport aircraft, 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.
Officials said the debris was located in a 30 sq. km area in the Drake Passage, where some 23 aircraft and 14 ships have been concentrating the search effort.
On Wednesday, the governor of Chile’s far southern Megallanes region, Jose Fernandez, said rescuers had found human remains during the search for the plane.
“They told us that they had found other airplane debris as well as human remains from those on board,” Fernandez told reporters in provincial capital Punta Arenas, where many family members were gathering to be close to the rescue effort.
His comments came shortly after the air force issued a statement saying that, out of respect for family members, all information regarding remains would be “analyzed, validated and communicated” by the air force itself.
Earlier, the Chilean-flagged vessel Antarctic Endeavour located debris that “could be part of the remains of the sponges of the internal fuel tanks,” Air Force Commander Eduardo Mosqueira told a news conference.
He added that the wreckage was located around 16 nautical miles (30 km) from the plane’s last known position when it disappeared from radar screens at 6:13 p.m. (2130 GMT) 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 wrote on Twitter.
Search vessels and planes from the United States, Uruguay and Argentina were also combing nearly 385 sq. miles (1,000 sq. km) 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.