Military plane crashes in Chilean Juan Fernández Archipelago; reports say no survivors

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Sunday, September 4, 2011

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Felipe Camiroaga, popular TV presenter, in 2009. Camiroaga remains disappeared with sixteen others aboard a military plane which crashed near the Chilean Juan Fernández archipelago.
Image: Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle's presidential campaign.

Four people, including Televisión Nacional de Chile (TVN) journalist Roberto Bruce Pruzzo, are confirmed dead after a Chilean military plane crashed near the Robinson Crusoe Island of the Juan Fernández Archipelago on Friday. Twenty-one people were aboard, with such figures as prominent Chilean television presenter and co-host of breakfast programme Buenos Días a Todos (Good Morning Everyone) Felipe Camiroaga Fernández, and businessman and founder of the Desafío: Levantemos Chile (Challenge: Let's Bring Chile Up) project Felipe Cubillos.

The accident and reactions

A giant poster of Felipe Camiroaga with Buenos Días a Todos co-host Carolina de Moras is displayed outside TVN's headquarters in Santiago as people gathered there.
Image: Pablo Corvalán.
Roberto Bruce, TVN journalist, was found dead at the sea by local Juan Fernández fishermen.
People lit candles and put posters in the gates outside Televisión Nacional headquarters in Santiago.
Image: Ignacio Errázuriz.
Pope Benedict XVI sent condolences to Camiroaga's and the other twenty people's families.
Image: Sergey Kozhukhov.

The accident involved a CASA C-212 Aviocar aircraft. Minister of Defence Andrés Allamand said on Televisión Nacional the crash "occurred in the late [Friday] afternoon near the remote Juan Fernández archipelago. [...] The scenario which we are facing is particularly adverse." The plane tried twice tried to land at the Robinson Crusoe Island aerodrome before going missing. The Defence Ministry sent a frigate with a specialized rescue helicopter, and an aircraft to the crash site to help search for survivors on early Saturday.

Mayor of Juan Fernández Mr. Leopoldo González Charpentier reported conditions were "rough and windy," and "aviation authorities lost communication with the plane as it approached the islands." "We assume that there was an accident and that there are no survivors. [...] Clothing, passengers' suitcases and some sandals have been found in waters about one kilometre [0.6 mile] from the islands' landing strip," González stated.

"I empathise with the anguish and uncertainty the relatives the 21 passengers aboard the plane, which is presumed to have gone down, are living through at this moment. This is a very hard blow for our country," President of Chile Sebastián Piñera said on Friday night after an emergency meeting. A TVN executive said: "We are extremely upset."

A group of five people from Televisión Nacional de Chile's breakfast programme Buenos Días a Todos, including popular presenter Felipe Camiroaga, journalist Roberto Bruce, a cameraman and two producers, were travelling to the islands to film a report on the reconstruction efforts after the tsunami generated by the Chilean earthquake of February 2010 devastated Juan Fernández. Felipe Cubillos, from the Desafío Levantemos Chile project, which he founded and whose goal was to help reconstruct Chilean damaged towns after the earthquake, tweeted shortly before the plane took off from Santiago at 14:00 (17:00 UTC): "Travelling now to Juan Fernández Island with the support of our Air Force. We continue to work helping the island's people."

Felipe Camiroaga, 44, was born in Santiago, and began his television career in 1988 as producer of teen program Extra Jóvenes in Chilevisión; in 1992, he joined Televisión Nacional de Chile, working as co-host of Buenos Días a Todos with Jorge Hevia and Tati Penna, and in soap operas. Fourteen years later, in 2006, he began working as host on a talk show called Animal Nocturno (Nocturnal Animal), where he interviewed people such as former President Michelle Bachelet and former Miss Universe Cecilia Bolocco; between 2009 and 2010, he co-presented with Soledad Onetto the annual Viña del Mar International Song Festival. In July, and coincidentally, Camiroaga quoted Chilean poet Gonzalo Rojas, following his death: "From the air I am, like every mortal, from the great and terrible flight, and I'm here to step to the stars." The quote is reported of being "very inspirational" to Camiroaga. Camiroaga also created popular fictional characters such as Luciano Bello, a TV presenter from Maracaibo, Venezuela, and El Washington, a poor person from the streets of Santiago. Camiroaga was nicknamed "the Falcon of Chicureo" (El Halcón de Chicureo), because he raised several falcons in his hacienda in Chicureo, Santiago Metropolitan Region.

Hundreds of Chileans gathered outside Televisión Nacional de Chile headquarters in Santiago shortly after the station reported the tragedy; people prayed and lit candles outside TVN's gates for the lives of Camiroaga and the rest of TVN's involved staff.

On Saturday, Chilean newspaper Las Últimas Noticias (The Last News) put on its front page a headline saying "The last flight of the Falcon" ("El último vuelo del Halcón") which generated controversy as Camiroaga had not been declared legally dead. The newspaper shortly changed the front page on its online version, however, the print edition continued to show the controversial headline.

Four bodies were found on Saturday morning by local fishermen who are helping in the rescue; they were taken from the islands to Santiago's Medical Legal Service (Instituto Médico Legal) for identification, arriving 19:10 local time (22:10 UTC) at the El Bosque Air Force Base. Their identities were made public at 21:30 local time (00:30 UTC) by the Minister of the Government General Secretary Andrés Chadwick: Erwin Núñez, from the Chilean air force crew; Galia Díaz, from the National Council of Culture; Roberto Bruce, journalist of TVN's Buenos Días a Todos; and Silvia Slier, editor of Buenos Días....

An intact door, several knapsacks, including one belonging to Felipe Camiroaga, and some equipment, lead the local mayor to assume "it was clear the plane crashed." Local councillor Felipe Paredes told Chilean media, "[t]hese persons came [to Juan Fernández] in one of the most tragic moments in my life. I lost many people of our community, many loved people, because of the [February 2010] tsunami, and they reached me out sincerely. [...] I can't wait for them to be here." Paredes was the last person to see the airplane in-flight, since he was in a control tower in the Robinson Crusoe Aerodrome.

Defence Minister Andres Allamand said in a press conference on Saturday night that "everyone died instantly when the crash happened." He added that, "[b]ased on observations and the search we carried out with the Air Force commander, we have reached the conclusion that the impact was such that it should have resulted in the instantaneous death of all of those who were aboard the aircraft." "We have peace of mind that Felipe [Camiroaga] died in a place he loved," TVN executive Mauro Valdés told El Mercurio.

Televisión Nacional released a statement on Facebook on Saturday night: "We profoundly lament to have to confirm that according to official informations given by the authorities, there are no survivors from the Casa C212 airplane that crashed in the Juan Fernández archipelago on Friday 2 September evening. Within the list of deceased passengers, there are five persons from TVN's program Buenos Días a Todos, which has caused deep sorrow in the whole family of TVN."

On Sunday morning, a televised mass was conducted in TVN's headquarters; some of the attendants were former Camiroaga's girlfriend Katherine Salozny, long-time friend Raquel Argandoña, Megavisión presenter Kike Morandé, actor Álvaro Rudolphy, TV host and producer Guillermo Muñoz, and executives from TVN. Mauricio Correa, executive director of Buenos Días a Todos said during the mass "Our colleagues died complying a mission, the public television one, the same one that sometimes isn't understood, but that is right there." Kike Morandé said: "The best one died, Felipe [Camiroaga]."

"Felipe [Camiroaga] was a host on the national show [Buenos Días a Todos] I was on today, playing soccer with [him] too ... it's news right now that he was in a plane crash ... please pray for him [...]", Nick Vujicic, who was interviewed on Friday morning in Buenos Días a Todos by Camiroaga himself, said on Facebook. Latin celebrities such as Luis Fonsi, Rocío Marengo, Lucero, Alejandro Sanz, Residente Calle 13, and Pope Benedict XVI sent condolences to Camiroaga's and the other twenty people's families, TVN reported.

President Sebastián Piñera decreed two days of national mourning, on Sunday afternoon in nationwide address. "The Government has decided to decree national mourning for the days of Monday and Tuesday of the forthcoming week, as a way to express solidarity with the families of the victims, and also the pain that has arisen throughout our country," Piñera said. He also said that "work is being done with the best technology to find the bodies of the victims," but added that he can't "guarantee that the search will be successful in a 100 per cent. [...] We know the impact was very violent and the airframe dispersed in a wide area." Piñera said that the causes of the accident are unknown at the moment, and added that weather conditions affected negatively the security of the airplane landing.

The body of Erwin Núñez, from the Chilean air force crew, was taken to Antofagasta after a mass was performed in Santiago in his honour on Sunday. That same day, Roberto Bruce, one of the two TVN journalists and father of two, was cremated and interrated in Parque del Recuerdo Cemetery in Santiago. "With tremendous pain we have just said goodbye to Roberto, our beloved fat [person]," TVN journalist and presenter Karen Doggenweiler said on Twitter.

One minute of silence was held at the beginning of the football match between Chile and Mexico in Barcelona, on Sunday. On that same day, three books of condolences were set up outside TVN's headquarters.

General Maximiliano Larraechea said that "at the moment there are no news on the search," as of Sunday 17:00 local time (20:00 UTC). However, at 18:15 local time (21:15 UTC) approximately, Commander in Chief of the Chilean Air Force Jorge Rojas told Chilevisión that mutilated bodies were found in the water; Defence Minister Allamand confirmed that the recovered bodies will be taken to the Medical Legal Service in Santiago, in order to identify them, at 18:50 local time (21:50 UTC). Allamand added that "there are fears that not all bodies will be found," and that the plane "was disintegrated on impact with the water."

Chilevisión reported that at least three more people, including TVN actor Francisco Reyes, and singer Keko Yunge, were originally going to travel to Juan Fernández on Friday. Reyes, however, was told to not travel because "there was no room for him" by Buenos Días a Todos producer Carolina Gatica (who remains disappeared); Reyes was going to travel because he wanted to teach Juan Fernández children "acting techniques." Yunge, member of the Desafío: Levantemos Chile group, was asked by Felipe Cubillos to not travel, because he wanted Yunge to complete a song he was working on. "It is incredible," Yunge told Chilevisión.

The airplane crash, according to El Mercurio, is the worst involving a military plane since December 1982 when a Fokker F-27 twin-engine travelling from Santiago to Antofagasta crashed near La Serena, killing 46 people, including journalist Silvia Pinto.

List of victims

From Televisión Nacional de Chile
  • Carolina Gatica — Producer of Buenos Días a Todos
  • Felipe Camiroaga — Presenter of Buenos Días a Todos
  • Roberto Bruce — Journalist of Buenos Días a Todos; death confirmed by Minister Andrés Chadwick on Saturday 21:30 local time (Sunday 00:30 UTC)
  • Sylvia Slier — Journalist, and editor of Buenos Días a Todos; death confirmed by Minister Chadwick
  • Rodrigo Cabezón de Amesti — Cameraman
From Desafío Levantemos Chile
  • Felipe Cubillos — Businessman
  • Sebastian Correa
  • Joel Lizama
  • Catalina Vela
  • Jorge Palma
  • Joaquín Arnolds
From the National Council of Culture and the Arts
  • Galia Díaz — Death confirmed by Minister Chadwick
  • Romina Irarrázabal
From the Fuerza Aérea de Chile (Chilean air force)
  • José Cifuentes — Journalist
  • Commander Rodrigo Fernández
  • Lieutenant Carolina Fernández
  • Lieutenant Juan Pablo Mallea — Pilot of the plane
  • First Sergeant Eduardo Jones
  • First Corporal Eduardo Estrada
  • First Corporal Erwin Núñez — Death confirmed by Minister Chadwick
  • Second Corporal Flavio Olivo


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