Plans are underway to recover the bodies of three Canadian men believed killed in a plane crash in Antarctica after the wreckage of the aircraft was found yesterday.

A rescue mission was launched by New Zealand's Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC), with the help of United States and Canadian officials for the Twin Otter plane and its three crew after the flight from the South Pole failed to arrive at Terra Nova Bay on Wednesday.

Yesterday the wreckage was located on a very steep slope near the top of Mt Elizabeth, halfway between the South Pole and McMurdo Station.

"It appears to have made a direct impact that was not survivable" Maritime New Zealand said in a statement.


No details were available on the cause of the crash.

The men's next of kin had been informed.

RCC co-ordinator Kevin Banaghan earlier said they were "still operating with the expectation we will find them alive".

The missing plane was equipped with survival equipment, including mountain tents, and supplies sufficient for five days.

It was owned and operated by Kenn Borek Air Ltd, a Canadian firm headquartered in Calgary that charters aircraft to the US programme.

Two helicopters reached the site at around 7.15pm (NZ time) yesterday and were able to survey the site and identify the wreckage.

The search and rescue mission had moved into a recovery operation, led by The Unified Incident Command, a joint United States Antarctica Programme and Antarctica New Zealand incident management unit.

The recovery mission was expected to be difficult undertaking due to remote location and difficult access to the site which is at a height of 3900 metres.

Weather conditions remained good in the area.

The men's bodies would be sent to New Zealand and from there returned to Canada.

RCC operations manager John Seward said all those involved had worked hard on the rescue mission in challenging conditions since Wednesday and it had been a real team effort. He said hopes were held throughout the operation for a positive outcome for the three Canadians, who were very experienced and well-resourced.

Their thoughts were with the families of the crew.