Andean search hampered

As many as 45 mostly teenage recruits are believed to have perished in a severe blizzard during a military exercise last week on the Antuco volcano near the Argentine border in southern Chile.

Rescuers battled strong winds and icy conditions for a fifth day,
as families began burying dozens of young men whose bodies have been recovered.

Harsh weather grounded helicopters with heat-detecting equipment and hampered foot patrols with dogs.

“The weather report is very bad, horrible. We will not rest until we finish the task,” Army Commander in Chief Juan Cheyre told a radio station.

As the army gave up hope of finding survivors on Saturday, furious families in the Chilean city of Los Angeles, where the soldiers were based, raged against officers for ordering recruits to march off the mountain despite storm warnings.

The Commander in Chief has dismissed the three top commanders of the ill-fated regiment and ordered civilian and military investigations into the tragedy.

President Ricardo Lagos declared three days of national mourning and attended a wake for 13 of the dead in flag-draped coffins at the army base in Los Angeles.

Most of the victims are teenage recruits from poor families — many were conscripts doing mandatory military service — whose regiment went on a mountain training exercise without proper gear.

All of the officers on the exercise survived.

“These are the heroes. The miserable villains are the officers that lived,” Edmundo Vivanco, uncle of 18-year-old Guillermo Foncea, one of the dead, shouted at the wake.

The tragedy struck on Wednesday when more than 400 members of the regiment were hit by the storm.

Hundreds were able to hike out or reach mountain shelters, but low temperatures and limited visibility hampered the search for dozens who fell.

On Saturday 112 soldiers and officers who were trapped for four days in a mountain lodge were evacuated and reunited with their families.