Chile air force plane carrying 21 aboard crashes

SANTIAGO, Chile - A Chilean air force plane with 21 people aboard, including a popular local television host, crashed in the ocean Friday near the Juan Fernandez islands off the country's Pacific coast, authorities said.

The CASA military plane tried twice to land at the airport on the remote island but strong wind gusts buffeted the aircraft and it later was lost from sight, said Felipe Paredes, a local council member who was in the airport's control tower at the time.

Rescuers in boats were searching for the plane, but the mayor of Juan Fernandez, Leopoldo Gonzalez, said some luggage had been found in the water and it was clear the plane crashed. "We assume that there was an accident and that there are no survivors," he said.

President Sebastian Pinera expressed sadness. "This is a blow to our country. In these times of anguish and uncertainty is when unity is most needed," he said.

Defense Minister Andres Allamand called it a "particularly difficult" situation, but said that for now the plane was still listed as "missing."

Authorities said popular Chilean television personality Felipe Camiroaga was flying to the island to do a program on the reconstruction of Juan Fernandez island following the magnitude-8.8 earthquake and tsunami that wiped out its main town on Feb. 27, 2010.

The 44-year-old TV presenter was one of five people from Television Nacional's program "Good Morning Everyone" who were traveling to the island.

Besides hosting the morning program, Camiroaga also hosted the popular program "Nocturnal Animal" and co-hosted the Vina del Mar music festival in 2009 and 2010.

"We are extremely upset," said TVN executive director Mauro Valdes.

Also on board was businessman Felipe Cubillos, a brother-in-law of the defense minister who had been working on post-earthquake reconstruction.

The remote Chilean archipelago, about 515 miles (830 kilometers) west of Chile's coast, is known for possibly having inspired the novel Robinson Crusoe.

The air force plane took off from the capital, Santiago, at 2 p.m. and lost contact with air control almost four hours later, according to a statement from aviation authorities.

"It's a difficult runway, but not impossible," Julio Subercaseaux, president of Chile's federal aviation authority, told state television.