U.S. Naval Forces Southern Command sent a P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol and reconnaissance aircraft from El Salvador to Chile on Thursday, according to a military news release. The request came from the Chilean government after the country's air force lost contact with a C-130 Hercules over the Drake Passage, the body of water between South America and Antarctica, on Monday. The missing plane was carrying 17 crew members and 21 passengers.
The Navy P-8A is expected to begin assisting with search efforts on Thursday. Officials with U.S. Southern Command have also shared satellite imagery of the search area with the Chileans after the transport plane lost contact, the release states.
"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," Navy Adm. Craig Faller, SOUTHCOM's commander, said in a statement.
The Poseidon was at El Salvador's Comalapa Air Base where it was supporting counter-illicit trafficking maritime patrol operations. A 20-person crew is assigned to the aircraft, which has high-tech sensors and communications equipment that allow it to conduct search-and-rescue operations over big bodies of water.
"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," the release states.
Two of the aircraft assisted in efforts to find a missing Argentine navy submarine in 2017. Wreckage was found about a year later more than 2,600 feet below the Atlantic Ocean's surface.
Drake's Passage is known for severe weather conditions, but Chilean officials said on Monday that the weather was good when the plane began its flight, according to an Associated Press report. The crew and passengers were headed to check on a floating fuel supply line and other equipment at a Chilean base in Antarctica, according to the outlet.
-- Gina Harkins can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.