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Two dead after blast destroys Brazil's Antarctic base

world Updated: Feb 27, 2012 09:02 IST

AFP
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An explosion destroyed a Brazilian research base in Antarctica on Saturday, killing two navy personnel and injuring a third, authorities said.

Brazilian defense minister Celso Amorim confirmed the deaths of non-commissioned officer Carlos Alberto Vieira Figueiredo and sergeant Roberto Lopes dos Santos, who had earlier been reported missing.

"In an act of heroism, they were precisely in the area of major risk in a bid to extinguish a fire and they did not succeed," Amorim said.

Navy sergeant Luciano Gomes Medeiros was also lightly injured in the blast, which occurred after a fire in a room housing energy generators of the Comandante Ferraz research base located in Admiralty Bay, King George Island, near the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula.

He was first treated at a nearby Arctowski Polish Antarctic station and later transferred to the Chilean Eduardo Frei military base.

The Chilean defense ministry meanwhile confirmed that a joint Chilean-Brazilian team found the bodies of the two Brazilian personnel who had been reported missing after the fire.

"The bodies were found near the stricken base" and will be transferred to the Eduardo Frei base, it added.

Chilean defense minister Andres Allamand told CNN television that the Brazilian base "was completely destroyed" by the explosion.

The blast also forced dozens of researchers to evacuate.

Earlier, Amorim relayed news of the accident to President Dilma Rousseff after being informed by the Brazilian naval chief, Admiral Julio Soares de Moura Neto.

Amorim was also briefed on measures taken to contain the fire and to assist the personnel at the base, his office said.

Military personnel were trying to bring the fire under control, a Brazilian navy statement said earlier.

About 30 researchers, one alpinist and a Brazilian environment ministry representative who were at the base during the explosion were evacuated by helicopter to the Eduardo Frei base. The Argentine Air Force agreed to fly them to the southern Chilean city of Punta Arenas, the Brazilian Navy said.

According to the Chilean Air Force, 42 Brazilians and two Spaniards were evacuated to Punta Arenas.

It added other people affected by the fire had been taken to the Eduardo Frei base, which was providing medical support.

Two Argentine Navy vessels and two others from the Polish Antarctic station were in the area, providing support along with three Chilean helicopters. Brazil's Polar Research Vessel Almirante Maximiano was en route to the area after sailing from Punta Arenas.

The Brazilian Air Force also sent a C-130 Hercules aircraft to Punta Arenas to repatriate the Brazilian evacuees.

The defense ministry said Amorim telephoned his Chilean counterpart Andres Allamand to thank him for his country's assistance.

The Comandante Ferraz base, which was established in 1984, conducts biological science research focused on coastal and shelf marine ecosystems.

Around 30 countries, all signatories to the Antarctic Treaty, operate seasonal and year-round research stations on Antarctica.

The treaty, which entered into force in 1961 and currently has 49 signatory nations, sets aside Antarctica as a scientific preserve, establishes freedom of scientific investigation and bans military activity on the continent.