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Chile says no SOS yet from missing plane

(Xinhua)

09:22, March 23, 2012

SANTIAGO, March 22 (Xinhua) -- A small ambulance-airplane that went missing in southern Chile with eight passengers onboard has yet to send an SOS, hindering search efforts, Chilean Defense Minister Andres Allamand said Thursday.

"Regretfully, so far, we have received no alert signal," Allamand told reporters, adding an SOS alert would go a long way to aid search efforts.

The plane, a Beechcraft BE300, disappeared from radar screen 41 minutes after taking off at 11:17 p.m. local time (0217 GMT) from the southern city of Punta Arenas on its way to Santiago. The small aircraft was operated by local air transport company Helicopter Chile.

According to the report from Chile's Civil Aviation Administration (DGAC), the pilot broadcast an emergency and then radar contact with the craft was lost 20 kilometers northeast of Puerto Aguirre, in Puerto Montt, which is 900 kilometers south of Santiago.

"The plane descended sharply from a 28,000-foot height, disappearing from the radar at 7,000 feet, near the Maca volcano," said Allamand.

The area where the plane may have gone down is inaccessible by land, and can only be reached by air or sea.

The area is "very difficult to access and sparsely populated," said the defense minister.

The passengers included the pilot and copilot, a crew member, a female patient, her husband, and three members of the medical staff.

On March 1, a single-engine Piper model aircraft, also with eight passengers onboard, crashed in the same region. All the passengers died in that accident caused by bad weather conditions.

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