Thursday, June 7, 2012

Air Class (Uruguayan airline) Metro III, CX-LAS, Lost at Sea

A Fairchild Metro of Air Class, a Uruguayan charter airline that operates predominantly air cargo flights, lost radar contact with ATC a few minutes after departing Montevideo's Carrasco International Airport (MVD) just before 2000 hours local time on 06Jun12.  The aircraft is not known to have landed  at any airport and is presumed lost at sea as radar contact was lost after it passed over Isla de Flores in the Rio de la Plata sea.  The only occupants aboard, the two flightcrew members, are feared to have perished.

The aircraft, Fairchild SA227AC Metro III, registration CX-LAS, was operating a cargo flight from MVD to Buenos Aires' Ezeiza International Airport (EZE) in Argentina.   It took off of MVD's Runway 24 at 1945 local time and was cleared to climb to FL100 (10,000 ft.).  After checking in with departure, the crew requested FL080 (8,000 ft.) and to turn right to the SARGO waypoint in the middle of the Rio de la Plata.  The crew acknowledged that they were "turning right to SARGO" but that was their last radio contact with ATC.  Subsequent calls by ATC went unanswered.  The aircraft's last known position was two miles southwest off of Isla de Flores and 10-12 miles offshore of Carrasco, Uruguay.

A few minutes after the disappearance of CX-LAS, Carrasco ATC contacted the Uruguayan Air Force's Rescue Coordination Center, which started an intensive SAR (Search and Recue) effort using a Fuerza Aerea Uruguaya CASA C-212 "Aviocar" and Aerospatiale AS-365 "Dauphin" helicopter with some reports suggesting that an EMB-110 Bandeirante was also involved in the search. 

The overall rescue effort is being coordinated by the Uruguayan Navy's Rescue Coordination Center as the ship "Ades 16" crewed by volunteers of the Honorary Association of Maritime Rescue is also participating in the search.  The search area extends from Isla de Flores some 100km / 60 miles east to Piriapolis, presumably in the direction of sea currents.  The crew of "Ades 16" reported that they encountered winds gusting to 40 knots and limited visibility due to cresting waves causing them to return to shore before resuming their rescue efforts, which continue as of this writing.

The AV Herald reports that the aircraft took off in icing conditions.  The weather was unseasonably cold in the Rio de la Plata region with overnight temperatures dropping below freezing at sea level in nearby Buenos Aires so it appears reasonable to consider weather conditions as a possible factor or cause.  

The captain crewing the flight is a 63 year old former Uruguayan Air Force pilot who also flew for airlines such as LAN Chile and has accumulated over 16,000 total flight hours.  The first officer is 34 years old with about 500 flight hours.

Air Class was founded in 1996 and operates four Metros registered CX-LAS, CX-CLA, CX-CSS and CX-CLS plus one 727-200F resgistered CX-CAR, all in DHL colors or similar yellow scheme.  The missing aircraft, CX-LAS, was manufactured in 1989.


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