Salvaged chopper to be transported, rescue under way

DONGHAE/POHANG, South Korea-- A rescue chopper that was salvaged following its crash into the East Sea last week is preparing to be transported for further probe, officials said Monday, while rescue efforts for five missing people continued for a fifth day.

The rescue helicopter, carrying seven people, including an injured person, crashed into the East Sea on Thursday night shortly after taking off from the easternmost islets of Dokdo. The rescue chopper had apparently been on a mission to save the patient from a fishing boat.

After recovering bodies of two people from the rescue chopper over the weekend, operations to find five still missing continued in waters near Dokdo.

Following an overnight search involving 12 vessels and boats, including three civilian boats, as well as four helicopters in an area spanning 2,900 square meters around the crash location, rescue officials resumed search operations as of 7:30 a.m.

Two drones were also mobilized for the search operations, according to officials.

They plan to also resume the underwater search as soon as weather conditions improve. While divers and equipment were mobilized, the underwater search has been stalled since Saturday afternoon due to severe weather conditions.

Meanwhile, officials prepared to transport the crashed copter that was salvaged on Sunday to Gimpo Airport in western Seoul for further analysis.

The Navy's Cheonghaejin submarine rescue ship, carrying the salvaged wreck, arrived at the port city of Pohang earlier in the day, before heading back to waters near Dokdo for rescue operations.

Officials are currently discussing the schedule and method of transporting the wreckage.

Efforts to salvage the helicopter and the missing people saw progress over the weekend as the Coast Guard on Saturday found two victims, whose bodies have since been retrieved and sent to their families.

DNA test results and fingerprint analysis showed that one of the victims was identified as the chopper's co-pilot, while the other was its chief mechanic, according to the Coast Guard.

On Sunday, rescue officials successfully lifted the fuselage of the firefighting helicopter from the waters near Dokdo.

Officials had initially announced another victim inside the fuselage would be lifted once the wreckage was lifted to a Navy vessel, but the third victim trapped inside the chopper's body was lost along with some damaged parts during the salvaging process.

The transportation ministry, meanwhile, said it has launched a probe into the crash.

A team of five investigators have started looking into the crashed chopper's flight and maintenance records to identify the cause of the accident.

They also plan to look into its black box, which is currently unaccounted for.

The crashed chopper is the EC-225 Super Puma long-range passenger transport helicopter, developed by France-based Airbus Helicopters, formerly Eurocopter, in 2016.

The National Fire Agency operated two EC-225 choppers, including the crashed helicopter, mostly for rescuing people and fighting wildfires.

The two pilots of the doomed chopper were both veterans with at least 17 years of career experience either in the military or civilian sector, according to the agency.

The model is the same as the helicopter that crashed off the coast of Norway in April 2016. That chopper's main rotor blades separated from its body, causing a crash that killed all 13 people aboard.

Source: Yonhap News Agency

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