A plane that crashed in Antarctica may have turned too early while travelling through a mountain range en route to its destination, says a rescue officer involved with search efforts.

Rescue teams located the wreckage of the Twin Otter aircraft on a steep slope along the route it had intended to fly, between the South Pole and an Italian base in Antarctica’s Terra Nova Bay, said Chris Henshaw, a search and rescue officer with the New Zealand Rescue Co-ordination Centre.

The aircraft, owned by Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air, was carrying three Canadians and went missing over the Queen Alexandria mountain range on Wednesday. The Canadians aboard are presumed dead.

“From looking at the maps, it is a logical route for it to fly through the mountain range,” Henshaw said about the location of the crash.

“There is a path that they actually sort of follow through. And it looks like the pilot made a turn too early. We don’t know at this stage,” he added.

The co-ordination centre said the impact appears to have been direct, making it unlikely that the three crew members aboard would survive.

The pilot has been identified as Bob Heath from the Northwest Territories, an experienced pilot in both the Antarctic and Arctic. A second crew member was identified as Mike Denton from Calgary, and the third victim’s identity in the crash has been confirmed as Perry Andersen, of Collingwood, Ont.

Due to improvements in weather conditions, Henshaw said it may be possible for a helicopter to land close to the site, which is at an elevation of 3,900 metres. He was still awaiting word on a decision about how they would proceed.

According to a news release from the New Zealand Rescue Co-ordination Centre, a recovery effort will be led by Unified Incident Command, a joint unit of the United States Antarctica Programme and Antarctica New Zealand’s incident management unit.

Crews want to return the men’s bodies to New Zealand and repatriate them to Canada, the news release states.

Julie Leroux of the Transportation Safety Board says since the plane was operated by a Canadian company, Canadian investigators are already working to determine the cause of the crash. Investigators have collected data and conducted interviews. Leroux said the board doesn’t know yet if it will be possible to reach the wreckage site.

“The Transportation Safety Board is waiting for more information to determine our next step,” Leroux said Saturday.

The Twin Otter's emergency locator transmitter was activated Wednesday as the plane travelled from a U.S. research station at the South Pole to an Italian research base in Terra Nova Bay.

The rescue effort was hampered by heavy winds and cloud cover. Snow also made it difficult for plans passing over the site to see.

The beacon stopped transmitting likely because the battery died and there had been no contact with the crew. But it was hoped they were able to survive because they were equipped with survival suits, cold-weather tents and food and water to last up to five days.

Willard Hagen, a friend and former colleague of Heath, said he believes the accident was likely due to a number of factors including a “massive” storm.

“I would assume it would be a combination of situations and the storm would be the deciding factor,” said Hagen, who is also an Arctic pilot.

“You are left a lot of the times to your own experience and knowledge. You make decisions of course that are going to get you home and in this case it just wasn’t enough.”

Hagen said he doesn’t believe this will change the way flights are conducted, as it was just a “tragic accident.”

“It just shows that Mother Nature is awesome. You could take one of the most experienced Arctic pilots in the world and it still doesn’t make any difference when you collide with nature.”

CTV News contacted Kenn Borek Air but they are not commenting at this time.

Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Tracy Brickles said in a statement that it was a sad end to the operation.

“It has been difficult operation in challenging conditions but we remained hopeful of a positive result. Our thoughts are now with the families of the crewmen.”

With files from The Canadian Press