Antarctic helicopter crash 'unsurvivable': rescuers

30th October 2010, Comments 0 comments

Emergency workers said Saturday there was little hope for four Frenchmen involved in an Antarctic helicopter crash, with Australian rescuers who spotted bodies near the wreckage describing it as "unsurvivable".

The AS350 Squirrel helicopter went missing Thursday after taking off from the French research ship Astrolabe carrying a pilot, mechanic and two staff from the Dumont d'Urville French Antarctic research base.

A distress beacon was activated but heavy weather hampered search efforts. An Australian air force plane eventually spotted the wreckage on Friday, with three bodies sighted among the debris.

An Australian C-130 Hercules aircraft was escorting a second French helicopter to the crash site, with a doctor on board to verify whether there had been any survivors, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.

"Unfortunately we're not expecting good news, we believe from the information that we have that the crash was unsurvivable, but obviously we need to verify that," AMSA spokeswoman Tracey Jiggins told AFP.

"If there's survivors or a survivor they'll obviously be on board to assist but as I said, it looks like an unsurvivable incident."

The two aircraft were expected to land at the crash site, 100 kilometres from the Dumont d'Urville base, about 2pm (0300 GMT), Jiggins said, with the Hercules able to relay communications back to rescue headquarters in Canberra.

Any survivors would be flown to the United States-run McMurdo base, where they would be transported to New Zealand or Australia for treatment.

"If there are no survivors the French authorities will take over coordination... the retrieval and also in terms of investigating the incident, why it happened," Jiggins said.

AMSA said the helicopter was last observed at an altitude of just 29 feet (10 metres), travelling at only 20 knots (37 kilometres per hour).

It is equipped with enough emergency food, Arctic clothing and medical supplies to last the crew at least a few days, despite temperatures between minus one and minus 12 degrees Celsius (30 and 10 F).

© 2010 AFP

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