Air bubbles observed in the sea near Barentsburg after helicopter crash
Air bubbles indicate that the place where the Russian helicopter has crashed near Barentsburg on Svalbard has been located. The search is ongoing.
– Air bubbles have been observed in the same location that there is a strong smell of fuel. This indicates that there is an object on the sea bottom, either the helicopter or a part of it. Additionally there is a ship that has observed an object using sonar, says rescue leader at the National Rescue Center for Northern Norway (HRS), Tore Hongset.
The finding is made at 200-250 meters deep and the plan is to deploy a remote controlled underwater vessel, a so-called ROV. It is on its way with airplane to Longyearbyen and is due around midnight, HRS tells NTB;
– We are pretty sure that it is the helicopter or parts thereof that is located, says Hongset.
Hongset emphasizes that at the same time it is working on the surface to find survivors who might be in a rescue boat. Search is also conducted on the nearby shoreline.
Eight Russians missing
All eight on board were Russian citizens, according to the news agency Tass.
– Personnel at the airport in Barentsburg say that they have heard a bang at the time when the helicopter crashed, says press spokesperson at the main rescue center (HRS), Geir Mortensen, to NTB.
The MI-8 helicopter has likely crashed about 2-3 kilometres away from Barentsburg.
– The search is ongoing at full force. There is still a lot of wind, increasing amounts of snow and bad visibility, says Mortensen.
Oil spills have been found during the search, that HRS believes may originate from the helicopter. A flight from SAS has also observed a ligh from the area in question when approaching Longyearbyen around 6 pm – ie more than two hours after the accident – but it is unclear what this originates from.
Both helicopters belonging to the Governor of Svalbard are present on site. Additionally the ship Polarsyssel, a rib from the Red Cross and several smaller boats participate in the search.
The first emergency report came from the Russian mining town of Barentsburg.
– The helicopter was on its way from Pyramiden on Svalbard to Barentsburg. We were informed that the helicopter was delayed around 3.30 pm, says rescue leader Tore Hongset.
Fifteen minutes later, the notification that the helicopter probably had crashed into the sea was issued.
– People heard the helicopter coming in, but suddenly it was quiet. The helicopter was reported missing just before am when it did not arrive in Barentsburg according to plan, Geir Mortensen says.
The helicopter was in contact with the control tower when it took off, but no one heard anything since. Nor was there any distress signal issued.
The machine is owned by the company Convers Avia, which operates for the Russian mining company Trust Arktikugol in Barentsburg. It was Thursday afternoon on the way from the abandoned Russian mining town of Pyramiden to Barentsburg with a crew of five and three passengers. After what the HRS has been informed, the passengers were researchers.
According to Svalbardposten the helicopter is usually stationed at the Russian Cape Heer base just north of Barentsburg.
Hospitals are at the ready
Doctor in the disaster management team at University Hospital North Norway (UNN) , Mads Gilbert, says to the newspaper the situation is very serious.
– It is difficult conditions with snow and bad weather in the area. If the helicopter has crashed into the water, cold is a serious problem. But we are all hoping for survivors and that people can be saved.
The hospital in Svalbard is a subsidary of UNN, and there has been a crisis team set up both in Tromsø and Svalbard. Gilbert states that there is also a hospital in Barentsburg, and there is cooperation between UNN and the hospital on the Russian side.
In 2008, three people died when a Russian helicopter of the same type with nine people aboard crashed about 4 kilometers from Barentsburg.
© NTB Scanpix / Norway Today