The United States has deployed a P-8A Poseidon multi-mission maritime patrol aircraft to Punta Arenas, Chile on Dec. 11 to support the ongoing search for the missing Chilean Air Force C-130 Hercules aircraft.
The Chilean Air Force C-130 Hercules went missing, on Dec. 10, in the Drake Passage while transporting 38 passengers and crew to the Antarctic. The aircraft’s last known position was about 390 nautical miles from Punta Arenas and 280 nautical miles from Chile’s President Eduardo Frei Montalva Antarctic Air Base, according to a statement from the Air Force.
The U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) directed U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command (USNAVSO), on Dec. 10, to deploy the P-8A aircraft in response to a request from the government of the South American nation. SOUTHCOM is one of the U.S. Armed Forces’ six geographically-focused unified commands with responsibility for U.S. military operations in the Caribbean, Central America, and South America.
The U.S. Navy P-8A aircraft and its 20-person crew departed El Salvador’s Comalapa Air Base and arrived in Punta Arenas Dec. 11. The P-8A was in El Salvador’s Comalapa Air Base supporting counter-illicit trafficking maritime patrol operations as part of a bilateral agreement between the U.S. and El Salvador.
The aircraft and crew are expected to begin supporting the ongoing search Dec. 12. Prior to the P-8A deployment, SOUTHCOM assisted the Chilean search efforts by providing satellite imagery of the search area.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Chile and with the families of the missing as we join other regional partners supporting Chile’s ongoing search for the C-130, its crew and their passengers,” said U.S. Navy Adm. Craig Faller, commander of U.S. Southern Command.
The P-8A Poseidon is the Navy’s newest maritime, patrol and reconnaissance aircraft and is configured with state-of-the-art sensors and communications equipment, allowing it to support a wide range of missions over large bodies of water, including sub-surface search and rescue operations. It can reach an airspeed of 564 mph, has a ceiling of 41,000 feet and a range of 1,200 nautical miles with four hours on station, allowing it to loiter over search areas.
In 2017, SOUTHCOM deployed two P-8A Poseidon aircraft to Bahia Blanca, Argentina, where they contributed to an internationally supported search for the Argentinean Navy’s submarine A.R.A. San Juan after it went missing in Southern Atlantic waters.