The Chilean air force plane carrying President Sebastian Piñera and his Ecuadorian counterpart, Rafael Correa, to Antarctica was forced to return to Punta Arenas, extreme south of Chile, after the pilots found it impossible to land due to bad weather, officials said.
In spite of the adverse climate forecast the Chilean Air Force Hercules C-130 had taken off at 1930 GMT Saturday from Punta Arenas heading 1.000 kilometres south to King George Island, in the South Shetland archipelago, hoping on the possibility of a “weather window” that would make it possible to land. This is common practice with the versatile Hercules C-130.
Originally, the journey of the two presidents had been scheduled for the early hours on Saturday, but a rain- and snowstorm, along with heavy winds on the Antarctic mainland, forced authorities to postpone the trip.
Piñera and Correa had been scheduled to visit Chile’s Eduardo Frei Montalva base on King George Island and Ecuador’s Pedro Vicente Maldonado scientific station on Greenwich Island, also in the South Shetlands.
It was the first trip for both leaders to Antarctica, where Chile has had a presence for many decades and Ecuador began to mount scientific expeditions in the 1990s.
“Despite the great effort made and the sacrifices ... of trying to arrive in Antarctica, we could not land. We were very close. There’ll be a next time” Correa said in a statement released Sunday.
According to Chilean Air Force sources the aircraft over-flew the landing area waiting for favourable conditions to attempt a descent, but finally and reluctantly authorities decided on the return to Punta Arenas.
President Correa’s visit was planned to coincide with Chile’s “Antarctica Week” celebrations and the presidential trip to the Chilean base would have been the culmination.
Both leaders were scheduled to sign in Chile’s Frei Montalva base a statement referred to logistic and scientific activities and cooperation in Antarctica which was finally stamped in Punta Arenas.