August 10, 2005

Helicopter crashes into Baltic, 14 believed dead

HELSINKI (Reuters) - A Finnish helicopter with 12
passengers and two crew crashed into the Baltic Sea off Estonia
on Wednesday and Estonian officials said all on board were
believed dead.

The helicopter, on a scheduled commercial flight to
Helsinki from the Estonian capital Tallinn, crashed near the
Baltic island of Naissaar three minutes after take-off,
officials said.

Rescue helicopters, boats and divers from Estonia and
Finland found debris from the helicopter but had not yet
recovered those on board -- six Finnish passengers and the two
Finnish crew, four Estonians and two Americans.

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip told a news conference
in Tallinn there was not enough information to hand about the
fate of the 14 on board, "but there is no hope."

Rein Porro, deputy director of Estonia's civil aviation
authority called it the worst civil aviation accident in
Estonia's history.

"They are believed dead. Typically people cannot survive a
crash like this. The helicopter dived very quickly," he said by
phone from Tallinn.

Estonian officials said the helicopter had sunk, with the
14 still inside, in water about 60 meters (200 feet) deep.

"Helicopter remains have been found," said Finnish Foreign
Ministry official Pekka Hyvonen. "For the time being, no people
have been found."

Finnish police said forensic experts were being sent to
Estonia to help if needed to identify any of those on board the
aircraft, a Sikorsky S-76.

Some ferries between Tallinn and Helsinki had earlier been
canceled due to storm warnings which followed heavy weather and
gales which swept up the Baltic on Tuesday evening.

But Copterline, the helicopter's owner, ruled out poor
weather as a factor in the crash.

"The helicopter was technically in very good shape. We do
not know of any technical or weather-related issues that could
have caused problems," Chief Executive Kari Ljungberg told a
news conference.

Copterline flies the 18-minute hop between Tallinn and
Helsinki 28 times a day.

Sikorsky helicopters are made by a unit of U.S. company
United Technologies Corp.

(Reporting by Patrick Lannin in Stockholm, Peter Starck,
Laura Vinha and Ott Ummelas in Helsinki, Patrick McLoughlin in
Riga and David Mardiste in Estonia)