Rescuers looking for three Canadians aboard an airplane presumed to have gone down in Antarctica were grappling with bad weather conditions Wednesday, as low visibility and strong winds hampered search efforts.
No information was available on the fate of the trio aboard the ski-equipped Twin Otter, which is owned by Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air.
A spokesman for the U.S. National Science Foundation, which operates a research station helping in the search for the missing plane, said the three people aboard the aircraft are thought to be Kenn Borek crew members â€” a pilot, a co-pilot and a flight engineer.
"My understanding is that it was just the flight crew and no passengers," said Peter West, who is based in Arlington, Va., and had been in touch with crews in Antarctica.
The plane was flying from the South Pole to an Italian base in Antarctica's Terra Nova Bay.
"The flight was under the auspices of the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic development," said West. "That's who the flight was in support of."
Kenn Borek Air, which is experienced in Antarctic aviation, was not able to immediately provide a comment when contacted by The Canadian Press.
Few details were available on the condition of the missing aircraft, which began transmitting signals from its emergency locator beacon late Tuesday night.
"We don't know exactly what's happening other than that the beacon is still transmitting," said Capt. Jean Houde of the Rescue Co-ordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., which has been in touch with the New Zealand authorities in charge of the search.
"We don't know the condition of the people on board."
Houde said the beacon's ongoing signal was right on the plane's scheduled flight path.
The region is in New Zealand's area of responsibility and that country's Rescue Co-ordination Centre was organizing the search.
U.S. authorities at McMurdo Station, the American research facility, were also involved.
A U.S. LC-130 flew over the source of the locator beacon's signal, but was unable to spot the plane due to heavy, low cloud, Houde said.
"Because of really bad weather conditions, they have not been able to have any visual on the aircraft. Nor were they able to establish any communications."
The signal is coming from the north end of Antarctica's Queen Alexandra range, and the terrain is considered mountainous.
A second search plane was en route, Houde said.
"A DC-3 was being sent with skis with some alpine climbers with spotters, food, equipment, shelter," he said. "Their hopes are to get a break in the weather, fly above the area where the signal is coming from and see something ...."
That plane was to be joined in the search by a helicopter from New Zealand's Scott Base, a research station located near McMurdo.
A joint New Zealand-U.S. field team will be aboard the helicopter.
Search conditions in the area are considered poor, with heavy cloud cover and increasing winds.