By Linda Bordoni
Pope Francis said he is closely following the news of the Chilean Air Force transport plane carrying 38 people that vanished en route to Antarctica.
In a telegramme, signed on his behalf by the Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Pope assured his spiritual closeness to the Chilean people and to the families of those on board the missing plane.
The C-130 Hercules carried 17 crew members and 21 passengers, including three civilians. It took off on Monday afternoon from the city of Punta Arenas in Chile’s Patagonia region on a mission to provide logistical support to a military base on Antarctica's King George Island when all contact was lost. A search-and-rescue mission is under way.
In his message the Pope said he is praying to the Lord to grant hope to all those affected in this moment of uncertainty. He also said he is praying for all those involved in the search and rescue operations, and he imparted his Apostolic Blessing upon all who affected.
Chile maintains a scientific base on Antarctica, conducting research on climate change and medicine. Military planes provide the only travel possibilities, frequently transporting civilians.
Uruguay, Argentina and Brazil said they were sending crews to assist in the search.
UPDATE: The Chilean Air Force said on Wednesday it had located debris believed to be from the plane. The debris was found 30 kilometers (18.6 miles) south of where the plane last made contact, the Air Force said in a statement. The parts were being recovered for analysis to determine if they belonged to the Hercules C-130 cargo plane.
"We will continue the search and hope for a better result," Chilean Air Force General Eduardo Mosqueira, who has been leading the search effort, told reporters.