SANTIAGO, Chile – Five Chilean soldiers froze to death and 65 were missing after a fierce snowstorm pounded the Andes mountains (search), and more bad weather Thursday hampered rescue efforts, the army's top commander said.
Angry relatives complained that the soldiers, mostly young draftees, had been sent into difficult circumstances without adequate training.
Thirty soldiers were located alive Thursday, reducing the number missing to 65, said army spokesman Col. Carlos Mezano.
The entire group was returning from a mountain drill Wednesday in the Los Barros (search) region, about 300 miles southeast of Santiago, when the storm hit, Gen. Emilio Cheyre said. Visibility was reduced to near zero as several feet of snow accumulated.
The army sent military mountain patrols with air support to search for the missing soldiers, but planes and helicopters were grounded Thursday due to bad weather. With snow blocking most roads in the area, army trucks and ambulances were waiting for workers using heavy machinery to clear the main route.
In Los Angeles, the closest city to the region, relatives gathered at the regiment headquarters, shouting at military officials and demanding to know the names of the missing.
Regional army commander Gen. Rodolfo Gonzalez (search) told the relatives he considered the soldiers "isolated, not lost."
"Believe me, this is all I know," he said before joining prayers for the soldiers at the regiment gymnasium.
Cheyre said it may have been a mistake not to anticipate the bad weather. Residents in the area, near the dormant Antuco Volcano, told regional radio stations the storm was the most violent in years.
By late Thursday, 363 members of the 433-soldier battalion were safe at military installations in the area, Cheyre told Radio Cooperativa.
The missing soldiers were about five miles from an army refuge when the storm hit, and contact with them was lost, Cheyre said. He added that they have the equipment and training to face such an emergency.
"The fact that they are all members of the same company makes me have hopes that they all remain reunited, together," Cheyre said. "According to their training, they should have stopped when the storm hit and taken safety measures."