A C-130 destined for King George Island on the northern tip of Antarctica fell out of radio contact on Monday evening, leaving many to fear the worst for the 38 people on board.
The Chilean Air Force’s C-130 departed from Punta Arenas, in Southern Chile and flew for approximately an hour and five minutes before losing radio contact. According to a Chilean Air Force statement, it’s believed that the aircraft was approximately 390 miles into its flight to King George Island when it vanished. Based on these limited details, it seems likely that the C-130 went down somewhere in the Southern Ocean.
Search and rescue operations are underway for the 17 crew members and 21 passengers that were on board the aircraft. Some of the passengers were said to be maintenance personnel heading to the island to conduct essential repairs on floating fuel supply lines that keep the research facilities operational. Others included three Chilean soldiers, a student from Magellanes University, and a number of Chilean Air Force personnel.
According to a statement made by Chilean Air Force Gen. Eduardo Mosqueira, the C-130 did not activate a distress beacon at any point during the flight. He also pointed out that the pilot of the aircraft had extensive experience and postulated that he may have been forced to put the plane down on water.
Based on the map, it appears that the aircraft may have vanished while flying through an area known as the “Drake Passage,” which is the region of open sea where the South Atlantic and South Pacific oceans meet. The area is known for its particularly brutal weather, though weather reports for the area on Monday didn’t show any signs of storms.
The search and rescue operation has already conducted an initial overflight of the area where the C-130 was believed to have gone down, but it yielded no signs of the missing aircraft. The search effort currently includes eight planes and at least four vessels — its focus is currently on a 60-mile radius around the area.
King George Island is the site to a number of permanently staffed research facilities operated by Argentina, Brazil, Chile, China, South Korea, Peru, Poland, Russia, Uruguay and the United States. It’s the site of a number of Antarctica’s firsts, including the continent’s first permanent church and first attempted murder — both, perhaps unsurprisingly, in Russia’s Bellingshausen Station.