Plane wreckage spotted in Antarctic

The wreckage of a Twin Otter aircraft missing for several days in Antarctica was found late Friday night and the three-member Canadian crew is believed to be dead.

Two helicopters dispatched by the Rescue Coordination Centre in New Zealand, it was early Saturday evening local time, confirmed earlier sightings of the wreckage of the craft operated by Kenn Borek Air of Calgary on a steep slope near the summit of Mount Elizabeth.

Officials with the centre said the impact appears to have been direct and would not have been survivable.

The next of kin of the three men have been informed.

The pilot has been identified by friends as Bob Heath of Inuvik while media reports have identified a second crew member as Mike Denton, a newlywed from Calgary whose photographs of planes appear on the Kenn Borek website.

The third crew member had not yet been identified.

Rescue mission coordinator Tracy Brickles said it was very sad end to the operation.

"It has been difficult operation in challenging conditions but we remained hopeful of a positive result," she said. "Our thoughts are now with the families of the crewmen."

The plane took off last Wednesday from the South Pole, headed to an Italian base in Antarctica's Terra Nova Bay, but it never arrived.

An emergency locator beacon was detected coming from the north end of Antarctica's Queen Alexandra range, about halfway between the South Pole and McMurdo Station, a U.S. research centre.

New Zealand search and rescue teams were hampered by bad weather over the next couple of days, snow, bitter cold, high winds and low cloud cover made it impossible for planes passing over the site to see anything.

Then, the locator signal stopped. Officials said that wasn't unusual, as the battery life of the device is not long, but the information they had gleaned allowed them to pinpoint the plane's coordinates.

On Friday, a break in the weather allowed rescuers to set up a forward base at Beardmore Glacier, about 50 kilometres from the crash site, where there is a landing strip and a fuel depot.

Working in their favour was the fact that at this time of year, nearly 24-hour daylight allowed for longer search hours.

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