Bodies spotted in Antarctica helicopter crash
Searchers spotted three bodies near the wreckage of a helicopter which crashed into the ice of Antarctica leaving four Frenchmen missing, French officials said on Friday.
An Australian air force plane "reported observing three bodies in the crash zone", TAAF, the state authority that administers southern French overseas territories including parts of the Antarctic, said in a statement.
"The teams report seeing debris scattered over 150 metres (164 yards), which indicates a strong impact with the ground," it said from its headquarters on the Indian Ocean island of Reunion.
The AS350 Squirrel helicopter, which has been missing since late Thursday, was carrying four Frenchmen -- the pilot, a mechanic and two staff from Dumont d'Urville research base in the French Southern and Antarctic Lands.
It had taken off from a ship, the Astrolabe, that helps supply the station, although details of its destination were not immediately available.
A second French helicopter at Dumont d'Urville was unable to search the crash zone because snow was causing "very limited" visibility, said a statement released Friday by TAAF.
The Australian maritime authority earlier said air force planes had reported seeing debris about 100 kilometres from Dumont d'Urville "and that there are no signs that anyone has survived the impact of the crash".
Officials had earlier detected a distress beacon but the intercontinental rescue effort was unable to sight the chopper in heavy cloud or make radio contact with it.
A New Zealand-based US plane flew over the zone early on Friday, while the Australian aircraft capable of making emergency drops made its way to the frozen southern continent late on Friday.
Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman (AMSA) Tracey Jiggins told AFP bad weather had left almost no visibility, with cloud cover almost to the ground.
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).
"As it was flying low and slowly, we hope that they decided to land because they couldn't see," Jiggins had said before the Australian announcement on debris being spotted.
© 2010 AFP