Stand-out student among passengers on missing Chilean plane

Stand-out student among passengers on missing Chilean plane
When Chilean university student Ignacio Parada boarded a military transport plane bound for the Antarctic, he took with him his dreams for the future and a sense of adventure.

In his fifth and final year studying civil engineering at Chile's University of Magallanes, the 24-year-old was headed to the remote, frozen continent to study drinking water systems at the military base. It would be Parada's second trip.

Within a short time, however, the plane carrying a total of 38 people lost radio contact, and on Wednesday searchers say they found debris floating in the frigid water. They believe it's the first physical clue of what came of the missing plane.

As word of the crash spread across Chile and onto the university's campus, hopes of a promising outcome drained away.

"The truth is that we are very upset," said University of Magallanes rector Juan Oyarzo Pérez. "It's especially sad because he was such an excellent student."

The C-130 Hercules plane — considered a workhorse of militaries around the world — took off Monday afternoon from the southern city of Punta Arenas. On board were 17 crew members and 21 passengers. Parada was one of just three civilians aboard.

The flight path took the plane over Drake Passage, the sea between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica, which is infamous for rapidly changing weather. Pilots say the driving storms with powerful wind gusts brings challenges.

The Air Force said the weather was good when the plane began its flight, or the mission would not have been carried out.

Seven hours after contact was cut off, the air force declared the plane a loss, though there had been no sign of what happened. Then, on Wednesday, a plane searching the water spotted debris that Chile's Air Force described as a sponge-like material, possible from the plane's fuel tank.

It will take officials up to two days to confirm whether it came from the missing plane, said officials, who have zeroed in their search on that area. A ship will scan the ocean floor there.

Dozens of relatives of the plane's passengers have rushed to Punta Arenas, desperate for answers. At the university, those who knew Parada described him as a serious student while outgoing and close to his family.

The project he went to work on in the Antarctic was a joint effort of the Chilean Air Force and the Universidad de Magallanes, a small university that leads in Antarctic research.

The passengers also included Claudia Manzo, 37, the only woman on board. She served in the Air Force Aero-photogrammetric Service, photographing the continent. She also served as one of Parada's research advisers.

Hugo Llerena Chávez, director of the Department of Chemical Engineering, praised Parada as an outstanding student.

"His peers looked up to him," Llerena said. "Many want to go to Antarctica, but he went for his list of outstanding accomplishments."

The professor said his team is devastated by the news, as well as the campus' student body.

In a brief statement, the Department of Chemical Engineering told its campus community on social networks that Ignacio had been on the flight.

"We love you Ignacio!!" the message said.

Jonathan Bahamonde, friend and classmate of Parada, told local TVN that this was Parada's second trip to Antarctica. He had made a first trip more than two weeks before this one.

"He was super clear about his goals," Ignacio said. "He was super proud of himself." 
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