Chile: Debris believed from missing plane carrying 38 found

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A Chilean Air Force helicopter returns from a search mission of a missing C-130 Hercules at the air base in Punta Arenas, Chile, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. Searchers using planes, ships and satellites were combing the Drake Passage on Tuesday, hunting for the Chilean Air Force transport plane carrying 38 people that vanished en route to a base on the frozen continent. (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

PUNTA ARENAS – Debris believed to be from a military transport plane carrying 38 people that vanished two days ago en route to the Antarctic has been discovered in the frigid, treacherous waters between the icy continent and South America, Chile's Air Force said Wednesday.

Air Force Gen. Eduardo Mosqueira said “sponge” material, possibly from the plane's fuel tank, was found floating roughly 30 kilometers (19 miles) from the place the C-130 Hercules last had radio contact.

The debris will be analyzed to see if it corresponds to the missing plane, he said, adding that the process could take up to two days.

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 debris was spotted by a private plane assisting in the search, and officials said a Brazilian ship in the area equipped with instruments will next scan 3,200 meters (10,499 feet) underwater at the site.

"We estimate that the debris may in fact be from the C-130 fuel tank," Mosqueira said.

The discovery came as Chilean officials had expanded the search for the missing military plane.

Mosqueira said the search area covered 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.