BARENTSBURG CRASH UPDATE: Russians helping search sea and shore for helicopter debris and passengers; vessel to retrieve aircraft from seabed to arrive Wednesday


About 40 Russians who arrived aboard a plane at about 1:30 a.m. Sunday quickly went to work with Norwegian officials to search for debris and the presumed dead passengers from a helicopter that crashed Thursday near Barentsburg with eight aboard. But the recovery operation of the helicopter found on the seabed Sunday morning will likely take at least several days, with a ship capable of raising the aircraft scheduled to arrive in Longyearbyen on Wednesday.

“We greatly appreciate your effort, and, despite the adverse situation in the search area, you have worked there since the first minutes of the disaster,” Evgeniy Sayidov, head of the Russian Emergencies Ministry’s task group, told Norwegian officials during an initial meeting, according to a press release by the Ministry of the Russian Federation for Civil Defense. “We arrived here with divers and robotics. Our specialists are greatly experienced in these operations. We will coordinate our operations to find that helicopter as soon as we can.”

Russian rescue workers arrive at the search-and-rescue center at Svalbard Airport early Sunday morning. Video courtesy of the Russian Federation for Civil Defense

The Russian helicopter carrying three Russian researchers and five Russian crew members crashed while approaching Barentsburg during a flight from Pyramiden. A remote-controlled submarine located the helicopter about two kilometers northeast of the Barentsburg helipad at Heerodden.

The 17 Russian rescue divers in the rescue group arrived at search area at dawn Sunday, while the rest of the Russian Emergencies Ministry’s personnel will be searching for the debris on the shore, according to the press release.

The Russian Emergencies Ministry’s Ilyushin Il-76 plane also brought high-tech equipment, including remote-controlled submarines and side-looking sonars.

Svalbard Gov. Kjerstin Askholt told Svalbardposten a ship capable of raising the helicopter is scheduled to arrive in Longyearbyen from Hammerfest on Wednesday. She said it’s unknown how long the recovery itself might take.

“That depends a little how complicated the raising work is,” she said. “That’s the work we are going to map out during the next few days.”