Chile Surpasses 500,000 COVID-19 Cases On Eve Of Referendum

Doctor Moyra Lopez holds an iPad for a terminal patient to listen to a farewell message from his relatives, at the so-called ‘humanized farewell’ room at the Barros Luco Hospital, in Santiago, July 22, 2020. Martin BERNETTI / AFP

 

Chile’s coronavirus case total has now surpassed half a million, authorities said Saturday, as the country prepares to go to the polls for a referendum on whether to replace the Pinochet-era constitution.

“We have to act with much responsibility in this plebiscite,” health undersecretary Paula Daza told reporters as she delivered an update on the pandemic on the eve of the vote.

The health ministry registered 1,631 new infections and 48 deaths in the past 24 hours, meaning Chile has recorded 500,542 cases and nearly 14,000 deaths since March 3.

The situation has remained stable in recent months, though infections are increasing in rural areas in the south.

Authorities have introduced special health measures in voting stations to try to ensure public safety during Sunday’s referendum.

Tables, chairs and other furniture have been disinfected, and voting hours have been extended to give people more time to enter and leave polling centers and avoid overcrowding.

At the National Stadium in Santiago, which is expected to welcome around 300,000 voters, disinfection teams have been spraying the facilities with copper nanoparticles, which have proved effective in destroying the virus.

“This, the largest voting center in the country, is being sanitized to assure people that they can attend tomorrow without fear of getting infected,” said Mining Minister Baldo Prokurica.

Every voting table will be equipped with disinfectant gel, and staff at the centers will wear a mask, gloves and a face shield.

Voters must enter the center unaccompanied, and bring their own pen to mark their choice.

Chile is slowly emerging from more than seven months of lockdown, but borders and schools remain closed and night curfews remain in place.

AFP

Chile Police Arrest 600 After Protests As Referendum Looms

Demonstrators clash with riot police during the commemoration of the first anniversary of the social uprising in Chile, in Santiago, on October 18, 2020, as the country prepares for a landmark referendum.  MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP

 

Police arrested nearly 600 people after demonstrations to mark the anniversary of Chile’s social protests turned violent as rioters torched two Catholic churches, the government said Monday.

Police stations were attacked as the authorities recorded 107 serious incidents nationwide while violence continued overnight, interior ministry undersecretary Juan Francisco Galli told reporters.

The demonstration came just a week before Chileans vote in a referendum on whether to replace the dictatorship-era constitution — one of the key demands when the protest movement began in October 2019.

Galli said streets were barricaded amid “looting and attempted looting” of stores.

The violence erupted after around 30,000 protesters flocked to Santiago’s central Plaza Italia for a peaceful demonstration, the government said.

But as the afternoon wore on, clashes broke out on the periphery of the square, more than 300 meters from the main, peaceful, demonstration.

The official said there was a “very clear distinction in how the day evolved” after it began with a peaceful demonstration but ended with serious acts of violence.

The most serious incidents occurred when hooded men attacked two churches and set them alight.

One church close to Plaza Italia was burned to the ground as hooded protesters cheered, while a second place of worship was looted and also suffered fire damage.

The small Church of the Assumption, which was destroyed in Sunday’s violence, is known as the “artists’ parish,” according to local press. The building dated back to 1876.

– Nationwide clashes –
Clashes also occurred in other neighborhoods of Santiago and in cities around the country, resulting in 580 arrests, 287 in the capital alone, Galli said.

“In these events, there is no demonstration, there is no demand that is acceptable,” he said.

Firefighters managed to get that blaze under control.

There were clashes between groups of football hooligans in one Santiago neighborhood, while protesters in Plaza Italia doused a statue with red paint.

Interior and Security Minister Víctor Perez, said on Sunday that the violence had come from a “minority” of protesters.

The images of the blazing churches was a stark reminder of the months of violent protests that broke out in Santiago last October 18, initially over a rise in metro fares.

The unrest quickly broadened into generalized protests against the country’s stark inequalities and left some 30 dead and thousands wounded.

Demonstrators on Sunday also called for their countrymen to vote to “approve” the proposed constitutional change.

Aerial view of a demonstration with a banner reading “We will overcome” on the commemoration of the first anniversary of the social uprising in Chile, in Santiago, on October 18, 2020, as the country prepares for a landmark referendum.  MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP

 

“This is the opportunity to say ‘enough!’ We’re here and we’re going to vote for ‘Approve,'” Paulina Villarroel, a 29-year-old psychologist, told AFP.

On October 25, more than 14 million Chileans will decide whether to amend the constitution.

The referendum to decide whether to change the constitution established under the military rule of General Augusto Pinochet (1973-90) was originally due to take place in April but had to be postponed as the country of 18 million reeled from the deadly coronavirus pandemic.

For those supporting a yes vote — notably the leftist opposition — a new constitution would allow for the establishment of a new and fairer social order in one of the Latin American countries most marked by economic and other forms of inequality.

AFP

Chile Unemployment Rises By 5.6%, Hits New Record Of 13%

Truck drivers protest by cutting off highway 5 in Pillanlelbun, Temuco, Chile on August 27, 2020. 
MARIO QUILODRAN / AFP

 

Unemployment in Chile has reached a new record high of 13.1 percent, the national statistics institute said Friday.

Unemployment rose by 5.6 percentage points in the rolling May-July quarter compared to the same period in 2019.

The statistics institute said it was the highest figure since 2010 when the body changed its calculation method.

That means that more than a million people are out of work, leaving 8.1 million employed after the loss of 1.8 million jobs over the last year.

However, the unemployment figure doesn’t take into account the 760,000 people that took advantage of a government initiative launched in March to protect jobs affected by the coronavirus pandemic by allowing the temporary suspension of contracts and access to unemployment insurance.

The institute said that taking into consideration those unemployed, those on the government scheme, and those not looking for work but able to, then the number of people out of employment rises to 30 percent of the potential workforce.

“These are the most severe figures… that we’ve had in the history of our country,” said Labor Minister Maria Jose Zaldivar.

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The institute said that of those still employed, a third have reported a drop in their income.

“The numbers speak for themselves and show why this has to be the priority,” said Finance Minister Ignacio Briones, while asking Congress to approve laws that would reactivate the economy by creating jobs.

Chile is one of the worst-affected countries in Latin America by the coronavirus, with 400,000 cases and close to 15,000 deaths.

The Central Bank expects the economy to shrink by 7.5 percent in 2020.

AFP

Chilean Police Train Dogs To Sniff Out COVID-19

dogs-chile
Members of the Chilean Police Canine Training team show two Golden Retriever dogs named Coffie (R) and Clifford (L) before the beginning of their training session aimed to detect people infected with coronavirus COVID-19 during a presentation to the press, in Santiago, on July 14, 2020. MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP

 

Police in Chile are training dogs to detect people that may be infected with the novel coronavirus by sniffing their sweat.

The dogs — three golden retrievers and a labrador — are between the ages of four and five. Until now they have been used to sniff out illicit drugs, explosives and lost people, police say.

The training program is a joint effort by Chile’s national police, the Carabineros, and specialists at the Universidad Catolica de Chile.

It follows in the footsteps of similar efforts taking place in France, said Julio Santelices, head of the police school of specialties.

Dogs have 330 million olfactory receptors, and an ability to detect smells 50 times better than humans. They can also smell 250 people per hour.

“The virus has no smell, but rather the infection generates metabolic changes” which in turn leads to the release of a particular type of sweat “which is what the dog would detect,” Fernando Mardones, a Universidad Catolica professor of veterinary epidemiology, told AFP.

According to Santelices, tests in Europe and Dubai shown a 95 percent efficiency rate in canine detection of COVID-19 cases.

Medical Detection Dogs, a British charity set up in 2008 to harness dogs’ sharp sense of smell to detect human diseases, also started training canines to detect COVID-19 in late March.

– Four-legged biodetectors –

“The importance of this scientific study is that it will allow dogs to become biodetectors, and detect this type of illness at an early stage,” Santelices told AFP.

Mardones said that there is already evidence that dogs can detect diseases such as tuberculosis, parasite infections, and even early stages of cancer.

Canines can detect subtle changes in skin temperature, potentially making them useful in determining if a person has a fever.

According to the World Organisation for Animal Health, the possibility of contagion from a dog is remote.

The canine trainees began their education one month ago, and will use sweat samples taken from COVID-19 patients being treated at the Universidad Catolica’s clinic.

The experts hope to have the dogs trained and working in the field by August.

The plan is to deploy them with an officer in pedestrian-heavy areas such as train stations and airports, and at health control stations.

Chile on Tuesday reported 1,836 new cases of COVID-19 — the lowest figure in two months — bringing the total of cases since March 3 to 319,493.

The viral infection has killed more than 11,000 people, according to the most recent Health Ministry official report, which includes “probable” COVID-19 victims.

AFP

Chile’s Health Minister Resigns Over COVID-19 Death Toll

Handout picture released by the Chilean Presidency showing Chile's President Sebastian Pinera (R) and new Health Minister Enrique Paris during his swearing-in ceremony at La Moneda Presidential Palace in Santiago, on June 13, 2020, amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. Sebastian RODRIGUEZ / Chilean Presidency / AFP
Handout picture released by the Chilean Presidency showing Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera (R) and new Health Minister Enrique Paris during his swearing-in ceremony at La Moneda Presidential Palace in Santiago, on June 13, 2020, amid the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. Sebastian RODRIGUEZ / Chilean Presidency / AFP

 

Chile’s health minister resigned Saturday amid controversy over the country’s official coronavirus death toll, as the pandemic hits the nation hard despite quarantine measures in the capital for more than a month.

The departure of Jaime Manalich was announced by President Sebastian Pinera.

The government has said publicly that the health crisis has claimed more than 3,000 lives since the first case emerged in Chile on March 3.

A report Saturday, however, revealed that Chile had informed the World Health Organization (WHO) that the death toll was actually more than 5,000.

The report came from an investigative journalism organization called CIPER which obtained a copy of the health ministry documents sent to the WHO.

Manalich had faced mounting criticism over the way the health ministry tallies COVID-19 deaths.

Deputy Health Minister Paula Daza explained the difference in the numbers.

She said the higher figure presented to WHO includes both confirmed and suspected COVID-19 deaths, while the government’s daily report reflects only those cases confirmed by a test based on a nasal swab.

On Friday, Chile reported a record for new infections and deaths over a 24-hour period — 6,754 and 222, respectively.

“The situation in our country continues to rise, above all in the metropolitan region,” health ministry official Arturo Zuniga said Friday.

Infections have risen steadily in Chile even though it began taking emergency measures in February — including widespread testing and the closure of borders and schools — making it one of the first Latin American countries to do so.

The capital Santiago and its seven million people were placed on lockdown more than a month ago; they were joined on Friday by the cities of Valparaiso and Vina del Mar.

Nearly half of Chile’s population of 18 million is now under strict confinement.

The country initially had imposed selective quarantines on areas with high incidence of the coronavirus.

But many poorer Chileans continued going to work — out of economic necessity — and a sharp resurgence in mid-May forced the government to order a strict lockdown.

Sharp Increase In COVID-19 Cases In Peru, Chile

People await to receive medical attention, outside the emergency area at Alberto Sabogal Hospital in Lima, on May 27, 2020. – Peruvian Health Minister insisted on Wednesday, that Peru has entered a plateau in the curve that registers the expansion of new coronavirus infections, a day after the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO) warned that COVID-19 transmission is accelerating in this country as in Brazil and Chile. ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP.

 

Peru on Sunday reported 8,800 new COVID-19 infections, setting a new daily record for a country that already has the second highest number of novel coronavirus cases in Latin America after Brazil.

The death toll is now at 4,506, the third highest in the region — itself the new hotspot of the deadly disease — after Brazil and Mexico, with President Martin Vizcarra warning the country is only halfway through the crisis.

Infections have jumped in Peru despite a months-long mandatory lockdown and a nightime curfew and the government ordering international borders to be closed.

The spike is concentrated around the capital Lima, where one third of the population lives, and put tremendous strain on Peru’s economy and healthcare system.

Four out of every ten Peruvians lost their source of income when the lockdown began, according to one study, and last week Peru secured a two-year, $11 billion credit line from the International Monetary Fund.

– ‘Tremendous challenge’ in Chile –

Neighboring Chile on Sunday reported 57 more fatalities in the past 24 hours, a new record that brings the country’s COVID-19 death toll to 1,054.

“We are facing the largest pandemic of the past 100 years,” said Deputy Health Minister Paula Daza, as she announced the latest figures.

READ ALSO: Philippines Capital Reopens Despite Rise In COVID-19 Cases

“It is a tremendous challenge; we are living very difficult times in our country.”

In Santiago, where 80 per cent of the virus cases were reported, 96 per cent of the emergency room beds were taken, officials said.

Officials reported a sharp increase in cases over the past two weeks.

In early May the government of President Sebastian Pinera said that the number of virus cases had hit a plateau, and lockdown restrictions would be loosened.

AFP

Half of Chilean Senate, Four Ministers In COVID-19 Quarantine

A health worker puts on a protective suit due to the COVID-19 pandemic, outside a hospital, in Santiago, on May 18, 2020. MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP.

 

Around half of Chile’s 50-member senate and four ministers have been placed in quarantine after coming into contact with at least three colleagues infected with the novel coronavirus, officials said Monday, as jobless protesters in a poor area of Santiago clashed with police to demand food aid.

Finance Minister Ignacio Briones and Chief of Staff Felipe Ward both wrote on Twitter that they had tested negative for the virus but were in quarantine until a second test is conducted.

Briones said he was tested on Friday, due to his “regular contact with” infected senator Jorge Pizarro on the Senate finance committee, and has since begun “preventative quarantine.”

The ministers of the interior and social development are also in isolation.

At the end of last week, around 20 legislators began isolation after meeting with Pizarro and another infected senator.

Last Wednesday, Chile recorded a 60 percent spike in daily coronavirus cases despite a month and a half of preventative measures, including a selective lockdown.

Last week, the government imposed a total lockdown on the capital Santiago, which has recorded more than 80 percent of the country’s 46,000 cases. There had also been 478 deaths as of Monday.

Violence broke out Monday in El Bosque, a crowded, poor area on the outskirts of Santiago, as angry people wielding sticks erected barricades and threw rocks at riot police, who fought back with tear gas and water cannon.

READ ALSO: Trump Says He Is Taking Hydroxychloroquine

“It is not because of the quarantine. It is aid, food, what people are asking for right now,” Veronica Abarca, who lives in El Bosque, told AFP.

The protests came one day after the government of President Sebastian Pinera said it would distribute 2.5 million packages of food to the poorest people in Chile.

Last month, the government said it would hand out vouchers worth around $300 each to some 4.5 million low-income people, but the money was never distributed.

AFP

Chile Reports First Coronavirus Death

A pedestrian wears a face mask as a precautionary measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, in downtown Santiago, on March 20, 2020.  MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP
A pedestrian wears a face mask as a precautionary measure against the spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, in downtown Santiago, on March 20, 2020. MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP

 

An 83-year-old woman has became Chile’s first victim of the coronavirus pandemic, health authorities said Saturday.

Health Minister Jaime Manalich earlier in the day said that 103 new cases had been reported in the last 24 hours, taking the total to over 500.

In Latin America, only Brazil has registered more cases.

Of Chile’s cases, 33 have been hospitalized and 359 are in the capital Santiago, Manalich said.

While the government has advised people to stay indoors, no official quarantine measures have been announced.

Even so, the streets of Santiago have been largely deserted, and the now traditional Friday evening anti-government protests that began in October have attracted few demonstrators.

However seaside resorts in central Chile, around 100 kilometers from Santiago, have been full of people, causing concern among authorities.

Some local mayors have closed their towns to outsiders.

On Wednesday, President Sebastian Pinera declared a “state of catastrophe,” and the next day Congress voted to delay from April to October a referendum on changing the country’s dictatorship-era constitution.

Earlier this week Pinera closed Chile’s borders to foreigners.

 

AFP

Chile, Peru Close Borders As Latam Grounds Flights Over Coronavirus

Travellers await for their flights out of Peru on March 16, 2020 at the Jorge Chavez international airport in Callao, Lima, minutes before borders are closed. On March 15, 2020, President Martin Vizcarra announced a State of Emergency and a two-week nationwide home-stay curfew together with the closure of all borders on account of the coronarvirus, COVID-19, pandemia declared by the United Nations World Health Organization. Peru’s “index case”, detected two weeks ago was discharged today and so far no fatalities have been recorded of the 86 cases of Covid-19 detected in the country. Luka GONZALES / AFP.

 

Chile and Peru announced a total closure of their borders on Monday while Latin America’s largest airline said it was reducing operations by 70 percent as the region scrambled to stem the rapidly-spreading coronavirus pandemic.

Latin America has registered more than 800 cases and seven deaths, according to an AFP count, after the Dominican Republic became the latest nation to report a fatality.

“We’ve decided to close all our country’s terrestrial, maritime and aerial borders for the transit of foreigners,” said Chile’s President Sebastian Pinera.

The announcement came as Chile revealed on Monday its number of coronavirus cases had more than doubled since Sunday to 155.

Peru followed suit soon afterwards with President Martin Vizcarra announcing a two-week border closure from midnight, while Colombia announced it would close its borders until May 30.

Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay confirmed partial border closures. Paraguay also imposed overnight curfews.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro announced late Monday that his country would enter “collective quarantine.”

Latam Airlines said it was reducing operations by 70 percent, just four days after already cutting back by 30 percent.

“If these unprecedented travel restrictions increase… we’re not ruling out being forced to decrease our operations even more,” said the airline’s vice-president Roberto Alvo.

READ ALSO: US Begins First Human Trial Of Coronavirus Vaccine

Mexico President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador bucked the trend, saying he would not ban public gatherings or stop greeting people with “hugs” until public health officials said otherwise.

– Stocks tumble –

Chile rolled out a number of coronavirus control measures as the central bank slashed interest rates by 75 basis points to 1.0 percent.

The move failed to stop the Santiago stock exchange closing down 14 percent, its worst fall in three decades.

Regional stocks were battered as the Sao Paulo exchange lost almost 14 percent, Buenos Aires fell nearly 10 percent and Colombia plummeted more than 15 percent.

Brazil’s currency fell below $0.20 for the first time ever, prompting an emergency government investment of almost 150 billion reals ($27.5 billion) into the economy.

Chile’s closed borders caused a problem for a quarantined cruise ship in the country’s deep south.

More than 200 passengers and crew aboard the Silver Explorer in the remote port of Caleta Tortel are in lockdown after six people tested positive for coronavirus.

Health authorities want to evacuate the other passengers back to their home countries, but may need special permission.

– Cuba helping Nicaragua –

Cuba said it was allowing a British cruise ship to dock despite five people on board testing positive for COVID-19 and nearly 40 others in isolation with flu-like symptoms.

“We are working around the clock to arrange evacuation flights from Cuba to the UK as soon as possible for passengers on the Braemar cruise ship,” a British foreign ministry spokesman said.

Cuba is also sending specialist doctors to Nicaragua to help the central American country treat COVID-19 patients.

Ecuador, which has seen 58 cases and two deaths, banned tourists from the Galapagos Islands on Monday while authorities in Rio de Janeiro used megaphones to order people at the beach to go home.

Rio’s Flamengo football club, the reigning Copa Libertadores champions, revealed that their Portuguese coach Jorge Jesus is the latest sports star to have tested positive for the virus.

The city’s famous Christ the Redeemer statue was also closed to the public.

Honduras announced a week-long lockdown to prevent people from going to work, using public transport or taking part in religious activities.

The Argentine government announced work exemptions for public and private employees of non-essential sectors, as well as parents with school-age children.

AFP

Crashed Chile Plane Had Emergency In 2016 – Air Force

Handout picture released by the Chilean Air Force in Punta Arenas, Chile, on December 12, 2019, showing landing gear of the C-130 Hercules transport plane, which disappeared late Monday with 38 people on board, recovered from the sea by search teams.   AFP

 

The Chilean Hercules C-130 plane that crashed on its way to Antarctica this week killing all 38 people on board suffered an emergency three years ago on the same route, the air force said on Saturday.

Following the plane’s disappearance after taking off from the southern city of Punta Arenas, local media broadcast a video showing emergency equipment including firefighters and ambulances waiting on the runway in the city’s airport in April 2016.

In a statement, the Chilean Air Force said the plane shown in the footage is the same one that crashed as it was crossing the Drake Passage connecting the Atlantic and Pacific en route to a Chilean airbase.

As it came to land at the base in Antarctica in 2016 “the crew realized that the left main gear of the aircraft did not travel to the down position and secure when activating the landing gear,” the statement said.

The pilot decided to turn back to Punta Arenas, using an alternate method to lower the landing gear and touching down uneventfully, the statement added.

The air force has previously said the crashed plane’s maintenance record was in order, but that it would investigate a WhatsApp audio message sent by a passenger to relatives that allegedly said the plane was having electrical problems.

Authorities say they have not ruled out anything as to the cause of the crash, which killed all 21 passengers and 17 crew aboard.

Debris from the plane was located in a 12 square mile (30 square kilometer) area in the Drake Passage, a storm-tossed body of water south of Cape Horn.

On Friday, remains of people killed in the crash were turned over to a coroner for identification.

AFP

Chile Confirms Finding Human Remains, Debris, From Missing Plane

Pilots get off a F-16 plane after combing waters off the southern tip of South America searching for the Chilean Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo plane that went missing with 38 people aboard, at Chabunco army base in Punta Arenas, Chile, on December 12, 2019.  PABLO COZZAGLIO / AFP

 

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 travelling 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 square kilometer area in the Drake Passage, where some 23 aircraft and 14 ships have been concentrating the search effort.

 Human remains 

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 kilometers) from the plane’s last known position when it disappeared from radar screens at 6:13 pm (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 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) 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.

AFP

Chile Confirms Wreckage Found Is From Missing Plane

Handout picture released by the Chilean Air Force showing a part of a fuel tank, allegedly from the Chilean Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo plane that went missing in the sea with 38 people aboard, found at Drake Passage, near to Chile, on December 11, 2019. HO / Chilean Air Force / AFP

 

Chile confirmed on 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 travelling 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 square kilometer area in the Drake Passage, where some 23 aircraft and 14 ships have been concentrating the search effort.

 Human remains 

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 kilometers) from the plane’s last known position when it disappeared from radar screens at 6:13 pm (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 square miles (1,000 square kilometers) 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.

AFP