STILL MISSING: Helicopter that crashed near Barentsburg and eight occupants remain missing after overnight search


A helicopter that crashed into the sea a few kilometers from Barentsburg remains missing as of Friday morning, according to the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre of Northern Norway. A remote controlled-submarine has been searching the possible crash site for several hours without success and worsening weather conditions are hampering the surface search.

“There is still no debris from the helicopter, but oil spills have been observed in the area near Kapp Heer,” a statement issued from the rescue center at 8:40 a.m. notes.

The Governor of Svalbard’s two rescue helicopters have been searching the area since shortly after the helicopter was reported missing at 3:45 p.m. Thursday. Several rescue and private ships are also searching the area under the guidance of the Norwegian Coast Guard’s Barentshav.

The remote-controlled submarine, which officials said was necessary to search the seabed that is 200 to 250 meters deep, was transported to the governor’s Polarsyssel vessel at about 4 a.m. and has been searching since.

Searches of the beaches and surface areas also continued overnight, but efforts were hampered by snow and darkness.

“The weather in the area has gotten worse with increased wind,” the rescue center’s statement notes.

Eight Russian nationals were aboard the helicopter while it was traveling from Pyramiden to Barentsburg. Observers saw the lights of the helicopter approaching Barentsburg just before it was reported missing, and an SAS flight approaching Longyearbyen reported seeing a glowing light from the crash area.

There was no distress signal sent from the helicopter before the crash.

“Most of these emergency signals are not automatically triggered, but they need to be turned on with a switch,” Tore Hongset, the rescue center’s leader, told Svalbardposten. “It has been shown in a number of accidents that they were not triggered, but broke apart.”

A six-person team from the Accident Investigation Board Norway was sent to the crash scene Friday morning to investigate the cause of the accident, the newspaper reported. Among the inspectors is  Tor Nørstegård, who led the investigation of a helicopter that crashed into a hanger building in Barentsburg while trying to land in 2008. That helicopter was fitted with a similar emergency transmitter.

The missing helicopter was not equipped with an emergency position-indicating radio beacon, according to the Russian news agency TASS.