A Chilean C-130 Hercules carrying 38 people lost contact during flight. The missing flight took off from Punta Arenas and was heading towards a Chilean base in Antarctica. A search and rescue mission has been launched to find the plane as well as the 38 people who were on board. Search is being centred around the Drake Passage, where it is suspected that the aircraft went down.

Chile has control over 1.2 million square km (463,000 square miles) of Antarctica, making it the largest area of the continent controlled by any single country. It is neighboured by territories claimed by the United Kingdom and Argentina. Chile frequently uses Air Force transport planes to carry people and supplies to the base in the region.

The December 9 flight had taken off from Punta Arenas airbase as usual at 16:55 local time. Until 18:55 local time, the plane was in communication with the air control operators. After that time, repeated attempts at establishing communication with the flight failed. The flight failed to maintain the estimated arrival time at the military base in Antarctica's King George Island.

RAF Hercules
Chilean C130 Hercules is suspected to have crashed while flying to Antarctica REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

The Chilean government decided to immediately launch a search-and-rescue mission.

It was estimated that the flight had covered 450 miles (725km) of its 770 mile (1239km) journey before contact failed. This puts the flight's last known location to be over the Drake Passage. An aircraft did conduct an over-flight over the stretch of water which connects the South Pacific Ocean to the South Atlantic Ocean.

Even though the area is known for rough weather conditions, the time during which the flight went missing in the area did not have any weather disturbance. Eight planes and four ships are combing a 60-mile (97km) radius of the Drake Passage.

The flight that went missing without any distress signal might have crashed into the water. BBC reported that the flight was occupied by 17 crew and 21 passengers. Out of the 21 passengers, there were three Chilean soldiers, a student at Magellanes University, two employees of the construction firm Inproser and 15 air force members.

The Chilean government has been in touch with the families of the missing people. President Sebastián Piñera, Interior Minister Gonzalo Blumel, and Defence Minister Alberto Espina travelled to the Cerrillos Air Base to monitor the search-and-rescue mission.