August 10, 2005

Fourteen feared dead in Baltic Sea helicopter crash

HELSINKI (Reuters) - A Finnish helicopter carrying 14
people 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.

It was not clear why the helicopter suddenly dived into the
choppy sea, rescue officials and the helicopter company said.

Estonian Kanal 2 television quoted eyewitness Mati Ojane, a
harbor pilot in the port of Rohuneeme five km (three miles)
from the crash site, as saying he had heard "two loud bangs"
before seeing the aircraft go down.

Rescue helicopters, boats and divers from Estonia and
Finland found debris from the helicopter but efforts to recover
those on board -- six Finnish passengers, two Finnish crew,
four Estonians and two Americans -- were postponed until
Thursday because of strong winds and waves several meters high.

Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip told a news conference
in Tallinn there was not yet full information 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.

Finnish police sent forensic experts to Estonia to help
identify any of those on board the aircraft, a twin-engine
Sikorsky S-76.

Some ferries between Tallinn and Helsinki had earlier been
canceled due to storm warnings after heavy weather and gales
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)