SANTIAGO, CHILE, FEB. 20 -- A chartered Chilean airliner carrying 72 people, mostly American tourists en route to Antarctica, crashed into the Beagle Channel at the foot of South America today, the airline said. At least 19 passengers reportedly died.

{The American Embassy told Reuter news service that all of the passengers were U.S. citizens.}

The Chilean airline LAN said 19 passengers aboard the British-made BAE-146 airplane died in the early afternoon accident; the Chilean navy put the death toll at 20. Seventeen of the 53 survivors were injured, a LAN spokesman said.

The plane crashed in the channel as it attempted to land in light rain at Puerto Williams, on Chile's Navarino Island, 1,500 miles south of Santiago, the spokesman said. "The airplane went beyond the end of the landing strip, and fell into the water," according to a LAN statement.

The names of the passengers were not immediately released. LAN President Jose Luis Moure said all seven crew members -- two pilots, four flight attendants and a mechanic -- survived.

The 65 passengers were on an Antarctic vacation organized by Seattle-based Society Expeditions, said Peter Cox, the company's director of planning.

One survivor, Julie Brice Lally, chief executive of the yogurt company, I Can't Believe It's Not Yogurt, reportedly told her father by phone that the plane landed safely but kept going until it hit water. "Several people got off ahead of them," said Bill Brice of Dallas, referring to his daughter and her husband "but before they could get off, the plane filled up with water and some of the passengers drowned." Brice reported that his son-in-law, Garvin Lally, 28, a free-lance writer, was killed in the crash.

An official with the Atlanta-based Cecil Day Investment Co. said three of the dead were members of a 12-person group of company employees, relatives and friends. The names of the victims were not released. The survivors included Deen Day Smith, a member of the Georgia University Board of Regents and the widow of Cecil Day, founder of the Days Inn motel chain, said Furman H. Agee III, the company's executive vice president.

The airline said the plane was en route from Punta Arenas, 300 miles to the north. The vacationers had arrived in Santiago from Miami on Tuesday and traveled together to Punta Arenas on a commercial flight.

The tourists planned to board the ship Society Explorer in Puerto Williams to be ferried to Antarctica for tourism, said Miguel Rivero, manager of the travel agency that chartered the plane. The nearest Antarctic point is about 1,000 miles south of Puerto Williams.

Puerto Williams is an important naval base, located across the Beagle Channel from Argentina. The channel is named for the ship that carried Charles Darwin through it during his 1831-36 voyage. Chile and Argentina share the island of Tierra del Fuego, which makes up the channel's north shore. That island, in turn, is separated from the mainland by Magellan Strait.