BARENTSBURG CRASH UPDATE: Photo of helicopter on seabed released, recovery of aircraft by ship likely Wednesday or Thursday


The first photo of a Russian helicopter that crashed Thursday near Barentsburg and was discovered 209 meters beneath the surface of the sea was released by officials Sunday night, with Norwegian and Russian officials continuing their investigation into the cause of the crash and search for the bodies of the eight people aboard Monday.

Rescuer workers and divers at the scene are searching the sea and shores for debris from the Mi-8 helicopter and the Russian occupants now presumed dead. The next major stage of the operation will occur when a vessel capable of raising the helicopter arrives from the mainland.

“This ship will probably arrive in Svalbard on Wednesday evening and will be able to start the lift in a short time,” Gov. Kjerstin Askholt said in a prepared statement.

More than 40 Russian rescuers, including 17 divers, arrived in Longyearbyen just after midnight Sunday to assist with the operation. Data from a Norwegian military remote-controlled sub was deemed to be the wreckage of the helicopter about two kilometers northeast of the Barentsburg heliport at Heerodden.

The bells of the church in Barentsburg were audible a few hours later, with Jurii Kvashnin presiding over a Russian-Orthodox service, Nordlys reported.

“There are few people here and everyone is affected by the tragedy,” Aleksej, a teacher in the settlement who declined to give his last name, told the newspaper. “Everyone’s feelings are with the men and their families.”

Norwegian Prime Minster Erna Solberg called Russian Prime Minister Dmitrij Medvedev on Sunday night expressed her sympathy for the victims and thanks for the cooperative recovery effort.

“It’s a tragic accident that has hit Russian citizens and all of us,” Solberg said. “On behalf of myself and the government, I offer condolences to you and the government, the family and friends of the dead, and all Russians in Svalbard.”