|A naval vessel conducts a search and rescue operation in waters near the Dokdo islets in the East Sea, Friday, following the crash of a medical helicopter the previous day. Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
A rescue helicopter crashed into the sea off Dokdo late Thursday, according to local authorities, Friday, who confirmed its location at a depth of 70 meters on the seabed.
As of 5 p.m., officials stated that the body of a person, believed to be one of the seven people onboard, had been recovered near the crash site.
The National 119 Rescue Headquarters helicopter took off from the helipad on Dokdo in the East Sea at 11:26 p.m. Thursday, according to the headquarters and the Korea Coast Guard.
It had landed there to pick up an emergency patient ― a fisherman who was working on a boat near the islets ― whose thumb had been traumatically amputated, and transfer him to a hospital in Daegu where it could be reattached. The patient, his friend and five rescue officers were onboard.
Dokdo Security Police officers were watching the chopper after takeoff because it began to fly unsteadily at a low altitude and in a skewed direction. They said the helicopter crashed after flying about 200 meters, two to three minutes after takeoff, and so they immediately called the rescue headquarters.
The weather conditions were not bad, with clear skies and a wind speed of 10 to 12 meters per second, according to the authorities.
Search operations began immediately but faced difficulty because of the dark.
After sunrise, eight helicopters, two patrol planes, 19 naval boats, some civilian ships and 84 divers were mobilized to search for the missing people. The headquarters said the sea was 72 meters deep where the helicopter wreckage was lying.
They said they would be able to identify the cause of the accident when they retrieve the black box and voice recorder from the aircraft.
Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon ordered relevant organizations, including the national defense, safety and oceans ministries, to conduct thorough search operations for the missing by mobilizing all available vessels in the area.
The helicopter was an Airbus Helicopters H225, previously designated the EC225 when initially manufactured by Eurocopter. It can carry up to 28 people with emergency medical equipment, and fly at 250 kilometers per hour for five hours.
The helicopter went into service here in March 2016. Officials of the headquarters said the manufacturer inspected the main parts of the aircraft between Sept. 23 and Oct. 18, as such an inspection is mandatory for every 1,000 hours of flying. They said they conducted test flights after the check to confirm its airworthiness.
The model is the same as one chopper that crashed and killed all 13 people onboard off the coast of Norway in 2016. Later in the year, the European Aviation Safety Agency imposed an operation ban on the model until improvements were made.
President Moon Jae-in ordered safety inspections on all models of the helicopter in the country, according to Chong Wa Dae.