Helicopter crash victims to be brought to
surface today if weather allows
Possible causes include high winds, a
technical problem, or terrorism
Twelve passengers and two crew members died on Wednesday afternoon when a Finnish Copterline Sikorsky S-76C+ helicopter, on a scheduled flight from Tallinn to Helsinki, plunged into the sea just outside the Estonian capital.
On Thursday morning divers were preparing to bring the bodies of the victims - most of whom were said to be still trapped in the fuselage of the craft - up to the surface, if weather conditions permit.
According to a statement to Helsingin Sanomat from Jaana Aduson of the Estonian Ministry of the Interior, preparations for the dive were made at the crash site at 8 a.m this morning. Six Estonian and eight Finnish divers are at the scene, and further divers and equipment from Finland are on the way.
Estonian officials have already analysed images of the wreckage, which is lying in around 45 metres of water, that were taken on Wednesday by a robot camera. The pictures showed that the fuselage of the helicopter was damaged but in one piece.
Flights by Copterline, Finland's largest commercial helicopter operator, were cancelled on Wednesday, but resumed on Thursday morning, with the first departure lifting off from the Hernesaari terminal in Helsinki at 8 a.m. on schedule.
As we reported already yesterday, the crashed helicopter took off normally at 12.40 from Tallinn and vanished from radar screens only three or four minutes later. The pilots made no reports to ground controllers of problems en route.
There is thus far no indication of what may have caused the crash, although nothing has been ruled out. The winds in the Gulf of Finland were moderately strong and gusting, but not exceptional, and not sufficient to ground the helicopter connection, although choppy seas had caused the smaller high-speed ferries to remain in port.
The 5-year-old Sikorsky S-76 helicopter was relatively new and had been recently serviced, and the Finnish pilots were both experienced. An eyewitness report of bangs being heard prior to the helicopter's plunge into the sea raised some speculation that sabotage or terrorism might be involved, but the reports from divers of the condition of the fuselage would tend to discount a large explosion on board.
A joint Finnish and Estonian commission of inquiry is being set up to investigate the accident, and at the same time as the bodies are brought out, investigators will be anxious to secure the "black box" flight recorder to see whether it can shed any light on the mystery of the helicopter's final seconds.
Further details of this story as it unfolded on Wednesday can be had from the article linked below.
Previously in HS International Edition:
Fourteen passengers and crew dead after helicopter crashes in the sea off Estonian coast (UPDATED 00:00, 11.8.2005)