Sunday, September 4, 2011

Crash of Air Force Plane Kills 21 Crew Members, Civilians

In one of the worst military aviation disasters in Chile's history, an Air Force plane with 21 on board crashed Friday, Sept. 2, near the Juan Fernandez islands. All on board are presumed dead. The island's mayor said the twin-engine CASA C-212 aborted its landing attempt amid high winds. On its second attempt, the plane veered off behind a hill and was never seen again. A day later, four bodies were found in waters south of the island, some 600 meters from the airstrip. Recovery efforts continued through the weekend, with the Navy putting its new C-295 Persuader maritime reconnaissance airplanes on the mission, in addition to two frigates, support vessels and helicopters. Civilian and Navy divers searched underwater for remains. The Air Force (FACH) deployed its own rescue team but, alas, a hydraulic problem forced one of its planes to return to Santiago. The crash is getting plenty of media coverage in Chile, increased by the fact that among the dead was a television personality and his news crew. The Television Nacional team was flying to the island to report on how Juan Fernandez villagers are recovering from the 2010 tsunami. Government cultural officials and members of an earthquake recovery group were also aboard. The C-212's pilot was Lt. Juan Pablo Mallea and the co-pilot was Lt.Carolina Fern├índez, one of the few female military aviators in Chile. The pilots and four other crew members were based at the Cerro Moreno base in the north of Chile. What could have gone wrong? Aside from the winds, there was no obvious cause. The plane had enough fuel for the 600 km flight from Santiago, and was not overloaded, FACH says. Update: After two days of fruitless search, complicated by heavy seas, more bodies and wreckage were found Tuesday, Sept. 6, in waters 7 km from the airstrip. The plane was a C-212 Series 300, tail number 966. It was the fourth accident in Chile since 1986 involving a C-212, which is used by all three branches of the armed forces. FACH says the plane did not miss its first landing attempt; it was a routine flyover of the runway to make sure it was clear to land. Winds recorded at the island were 25 knots and erratic, which would have affected the landing.

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