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Fatal helicopter crash at French Antarctic research base

Australian and US air force planes have spotted three bodies and debris strewn 150m around the site of the crash of helicopter in Antarctica carrying four people, including the pilot, a mechanic and two researchers from l’Institut polaire Paul-Emile Victor, in Brest, Brittany, France.

The helicopter, flying in poor visibility and rough weather was carrying staff and supplies between the French research vessel and supply ship, l’Astrolabe and the country’s Dumont d’Urville research base in Adélie Land, in south-east Antarctica, when the crash occurred last night. The facilities are part of IFREMER, the French marine research agency. The US and Australian planes picked up a distress beacon signal, and flyovers over the zone took place today – the planes also dropped survival equipment at the site.

Poor visibility has hampered rescue efforts at the site, 60 nautical miles from the base, and 150 from l’Astrolabe supply ship, but a helicopter will attempt again to reach it in the morning when visibility is set to improve. Meanwhile l’Astrolabe and an Australian ice-breaker, the Aurora Australis, are making their way to the scene . A helicopter accident in February 1999 between the same ship and base killed three people.

Update 30 October. There were no survivors from the crash, according to a statement issued this morning by l’Institut polaire Paul-Emile Victor. Better weather, allowed a helicopter and rescue team from the Dumont d’Urville to take off at 12:45 local time (UTC +10h) and reach the crash site. The team found no survivors, and repatriated one body to the base, before a second flight repatriated the remaining three bodies. Aerial support for the rescue operation was provided by a Hercules C130 aircraft, dispatched to the zone by Australian authorities.


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