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SANTIAGO, Chile -- Searchers combing Antarctic seas have recovered parts of a military transport plane and remains belonging to some of the 38 people aboard who vanished en route to the frozen continent, Chilean officials said Thursday.

Gen. Arturo Merino of the Chilean air force said at a news conference that based on the condition of the remains, he believed it would be "practically impossible" that any survivors would be pulled from the water alive.

An international team of searchers continued the hunt, while officials on shore said they would use DNA analysis to identify the crash victims.

Among the recovered items, searchers have found a landing wheel, sponge-like material from the fuel tanks and part of the plane's inside wall.

"Remains of human beings that are most likely the passengers have been found among several pieces of the plane," Merino said. "I feel immense pain for this loss of lives."

The C-130 Hercules, a military transport plane, departed Monday afternoon from a base in Punta Arenas in far-southern Chile on a regular maintenance flight for an Antarctic base. Radio contact was lost 70 minutes later.

After midnight, the air force declared the plane a loss, but it wasn't until Wednesday that a plane scanning the seas first spotted floating debris believed to be from the plane.

The searchers spotted the remains roughly 19 miles from where pilots last made contact with the control tower, said officials, adding that the hunt has taken them to sea depths of 13,123 feet.

The plane was flying over Drake Passage, the sea between the southern tip of South America and Antarctica, which is infamous for rapidly changing and often severe weather. Pilots say the driving storms with powerful wind gusts presents challenges.

The aircraft would have been about halfway to the Antarctic base when it lost contact, officials have said, adding that no emergency signals had been activated. Officials haven't said what they believe led the plane to crash.

Gen. Cristian Pizarro said that the first of the recovered human remains will arrive ashore today.

Defense Minister Alberto Espina expressed his gratitude for the international support in the search. It included 23 airplanes and dozens of ships from Argentina, Brazil, the United States, Great Britain and Uruguay as well as Chile.

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