Remains of lost Argentine P-2 Neptune found in Antarctica

A ceremony has been held alongside the newly discovered aircraft remains to pay tribute to the personnel that lost their lives

On February 4, a memorial ceremony was held aboard the Bulgarian Navy research vessel St Cyril and Methodius at Bernard Point on Livingston Island in the South Shetland Islands, Antarctica. The ceremony took place in front of aircraft remains discovered by a Bulgarian geological field team during scientific research.

Initially, it was hypothesized that the remains might belong to a Chilean Air Force C-130 Hercules that was lost in 2019 in the Drake Passage during a flight from Punta Arenas to King George Island. However, parts found by Bulgarian geologists Kalin Naydenov and Kiril Doskov, along with alpinists Doychin Boyanov and Marcho Paunov, featured the 'Sol de Mayo' emblem from the Argentine flag, which is typically painted on the rudder of Argentine Navy aircraft. This confirmed that the wreckage was indeed from the Argentine Navy's Lockheed P-2 Neptune, with the registry 2-P-103, which was lost on the morning of September 15, 1976.

Assigned to the Escuadrilla Aeronaval de Exploración, 2-P-103 had taken off from the Argentine naval base in Rio Grande to survey ice conditions in the Drake Passage and near the South Shetland Islands in support of the Argentine Navy icebreaker General San Martin. The crew comprised ten individuals: Aircraft Commander Lieutenant Commander Arnaldo Muto, Lieutenants Miguel Baraz and Carlos Millardo, Ensign Claudio Cabut, and Sergeants Nelson Vilagra, Juan Noto, and Reimberto Brizuela, as well as Corporals Omar Campastri and Benjamín Scesa, plus Channel 13 TV Ushuaia correspondent Rodolfo Rivarola. After communication with the aircraft was lost, the crash site was located on September 18, 1976, on one of Mount Bernard's slopes on Livingston Island. The General San Martin was dispatched to search for survivors, but none were found.

In January 1977, during the southern hemisphere summer, Argentina conducted a combined Navy and Army operation to recover the bodies in the challenging mountainous terrain, at an altitude of 4,921ft (1,500m) and on a 70-degree slope. An Army Aviation Bell 212 helicopter, with the registry AE-451, providing aerial support for the operation, crashed, resulting in the deaths of all three crew members: First Lieutenant Mario Garcia, Lieutenant Alejandro Merani, and onboard mechanic Sergeant Ricardo Segura.

Given the magnitude of the tragedy, the largest since the onset of the Argentine presence in Antarctica, it was decided not to attempt another recovery of the bodies.

At the ceremony, the recovered parts featuring the 'Sol de Mayo' were displayed on a table draped with the Argentine and Bulgarian flags, on the deck of St Cyril and Methodius. The event was presided over by the Director of the Bulgarian Naval Academy, Admiral Boyan Mednikarov; the Director of the Bulgarian Institute, Professor Christo Pimpirev; the Bulgarian ambassador to Argentina, Stoyan Mihaylov; and the General Director of the official Bulgarian news agency BTA, Kiril Valchev. Representing Argentina, Lieutenant Commander Lucas Acosta of the Argentine Navy paid tribute to the fallen, declaring the incident the greatest tragedy in Argentina's Antarctic history and highlighting the undying guardianship and heroism of the deceased crews. With thanks to Ramiro Piacenza

On the deck of ‘St Cyril and Methodius’ the remains of the Neptune, with the prominent ‘Sol de Mayo’, were displayed alongside the Bulgarian and Argentine flags
On the deck of ‘St Cyril and Methodius’ the remains of the Neptune, with the prominent ‘Sol de Mayo’, were displayed alongside the Bulgarian and Argentine flags COURTESY ARGENTINE NAVY PRESS OFFICE