MOSCOW, Jun 2 – Russian divers Sunday recovered seven bodies from the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed into a lake in the remote northwestern tundra with 18 people including top regional officials and businessmen on board.
Two survivors with broken legs were found by fishermen after the Mi-8 helicopter smashed into Munozero lake in a remote area on the northwestern Kola peninsula late Saturday, regional officials said.
The remaining nine people on board are considered missing and feared dead.
Top regional officials including a deputy governor of the Murmansk region as well as the head and deputy head of Apatit a company manufacturing components for mineral fertilisers, were on board the helicopter, officials said.
“A horrible tragedy has happened,” Andrei Guryev, general director of PhosAgro, one of the world’s top producers of phosphate fertilisers which controls Apatit, said in a statement.
Acting governor of the Murmansk region, Marina Kovtun, called the victims of the crash “top professionals.”
Seven bodies have been recovered so far, the emergencies ministry said in a statement.
“The bodies are being raised,” Tatyana Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the regional emergencies ministry, separately told AFP.
She said rescue workers planned to work through the night as “the visibility is good”.
Officials refused to declare the rest of the missing dead.
“We are adults. Probably there’s no hope,” Zakharova said. “But we will be hoping until the last minute.”
“Until the bodies are found, they are considered alive,” Apatit spokeswoman Olga Kryuchek told AFP earlier in the day.
The two survivors were found floating on the water fastened to their chairs, said Denis Pushin, spokesman for the Murmansk regional administration.
“Fishermen found them,” Pushin told AFP. “They have concussion and are in shock,” he said, referring to the survivors a local doctor and a forestry expert.
He initially said the passengers were most likely on a fishing trip but later retracted his statement, noting it was “a working visit”.
PhosAgro said the trip was organised by its subsidiary, which helped the regional authorities to develop the region’s tourism potential and attract investors.
“We’ve already had a number of joint successful projects of such kind,” said PhosAgro’s Guryev.
A deputy regional governor, Sergei Skomorokhov, the region’s natural resources and ecology minister and other officials were among the passengers, according to PhosAgro.
Investigators cited a possible aircraft malfunction and bad weather as likely causes of the crash.
“The pilot found himself in difficult meteorological conditions, lost his sense of direction and hit the surface of the water,” the Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Officials could not begin a rescue operation when they received the first reports of the crash on Saturday due to poor weather conditions.
Some 100 people were working on the scene of the crash on Sunday, the emergencies ministry said.
A regional police spokeswoman said earlier that the helicopter was carrying up to 19 people.
Aviation crashes are frequent in Russia and are often blamed on ageing aircraft and poor maintenance.