Antarctic search for Canadian plane suspended again

WELLINGTON (AFP) - Bad weather on Friday forced rescuers to suspend a search in Antarctica for a plane missing with three Canadians aboard, again frustrating plans to try to reach the downed aircraft.

High winds and heavy cloud cover have hampered efforts to find the Twin Otter, which went missing in a remote mountain range on Wednesday while on a supply run from the South Pole to Italy's Antarctic base at Terra Nova Bay.

After the search was temporarily called off due to weather conditions late on Thursday, a second Twin Otter left the US McMurdo base on Friday morning to try to spot the plane, the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) said.

But it said the aircraft had to turn back in the face of 170kmh winds, adding: "No further flights will take place until conditions improve."

Transmissions from an emergency beacon indicate the plane is located at an altitude of 3,900 metres in the Queen Alexandra mountain range, some 700 kilometres from the nearest Antarctic base.

RCCNZ spokesman Mike Roberts said rescuers would try to reach the plane as soon as conditions permitted.

He said the rugged terrain meant sending in a helicopter was the preferred option but mountain rescue experts and medics were also prepared to make a land-based approach if feasible.

"We have two helicopters on standby at the moment... and they will fly in as soon as conditions allow," he told Radio New Zealand.

There has been no contact with the crew since the plane went missing but it was equipped with survival equipment, including mountain tents and supplies sufficient for five days.

The plane belongs to Canada's Kenn Borek Air, a firm based in Calgary that charters aircraft to the US Antarctic programme.

The missing men have not been identified, although New Zealand media have named the captain as Bob Heath, an experienced polar pilot.

The RCCNZ is coordinating the search, with cooperation from US and Italian authorities in Antarctica, because the Queen Alexandra range lies in its rescue zone.

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