Search continues for 16 missing after chopper ditches

A helicopter made an emergency crash landing off Newfoundland en route to Hibernia oil field on Thursday.
Searchers on Friday combed the Atlantic Ocean for 16 missing people, a day after a chopper ditched in the frigid waters off Canada, a rescue official said.

The S-92 Sikorsky copter had been carrying the people to an oil platform when it slammed into the waters near Newfoundland on Thursday morning. “We will continue to search until there’s absolutely no chance that any survivors will be located,” Maj. Denis McGuire of the Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax said Thursday. “Until last light (Friday).” One survivor, identified as Robert Decker, was found and taken to a hospital, but efforts to find more survivors had proven fruitless, McGuire said. No other details about Decker were released. The body of one person, who has not been identified publicly, also was pulled from the water. “All we’ve got is the debris field,” McGuire said. “There are no indications of any (more) survivors, but the search will continue.” Watch how search for survivors goes on » The Atlantic Ocean water is 400 feet deep at the site where the helicopter hit the water about 30 nautical miles from St. John’s, he said. Helicopters and ships were scouring the debris field Thursday evening, and search-and-rescue technicians were planning to use night-vision goggles and flares overnight. Officials became aware that the helicopter was having problems shortly after 9:10 a.m. Thursday, when the pilot declared a mayday, McGuire said. “They declared their mayday and then they hit the water or landed in the water approximately eight minutes later,” he said. About 25 minutes later, a helicopter arrived at the area and discovered the survivor, the body, the overturned helicopter and two empty life rafts, he said. Though those aboard would have been wearing survival suits that would have kept them dry and were equipped with lights and personal locator beacons, the suits have not helped the searchers. “We have not received any signals whatsoever,” McGuire said. The suits theoretically would allow their wearers to survive 24 hours in the freezing waters — or until about 9 a.m. Friday — but the search effort was to continue well beyond that. Watch how helicopter fliers train to survive crashes » At that time, based on water temperature and the size of the search area, officials will decide whether to continue the effort, he said. Early in the day, high winds and seas hampered the search, but by late afternoon, the weather had improved, although seas were still about 13 to 16 feet (4 to 5 meters) and winds were at about 40 knots (46 mph). Jeri Grychowski of the Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax said the debris filled a 6-mile area. The survivor was taken to the Health Sciences Center in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

The helicopter had been heading to the Hibernia offshore oil platform when it went down in what Grychowski called a controlled emergency crash landing. The pilot reported some technical malfunctions before the crash and radioed that he was turning the chopper around, said Rick Burt of Cougar Helicopters — the operator of the copter.