Thursday, March 12, 2009

Helicopter with 18 aboard crashes in Atlantic

ST. JOHN'S, Newfoundland – A helicopter carrying 18 people on its way Thursday to an offshore oil platform ditched in the Atlantic Ocean off Newfoundland, officials said.

Two people have been spotted in the water, as well as a life-raft, but there's no sign of the helicopter, said Jeri Grychowski of the Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax.

Winds are fairly strong in the area with six- to nine-foot waves, Grychowski said.

A mayday call was issued just before 8:00 a.m. EST as the chopper was headed to the Hibernia oil platform, said Dave Bowen, also of the Rescue Coordination Centre.

"We don't have any further information on the raft itself," Bowen told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.

The S-92 Sikorsky helicopter, operated by Cougar Helicopters of St. John's, went down 55 miles southeast of the provincial capital of St. John's. Police were blocking the road to the Cougar office.

The first call for help was placed to air traffic control in Gander.

"Mechanical problems were reported but we don't know the nature," Transportation Safety Board of Canada spokeswoman Julie Leroux said. Leroux said the pilot reportedly ditched the chopper 30 miles out to sea.

A Hercules aircraft and four Cormorant rescue helicopters are on their way to the site, and a coast guard ship and a supply ship are about an hour away.

Deborah Collins, a spokeswoman for the Eastern Health board, said the emergency room at a St. John's hospital was being cleared in preparation for the possibility of "critically ill or hypothermic people."

Hibernia is located about 200 miles east of St John's, Newfoundland.

The oil field is owned jointly by ExxonMobil Canada, Chevron Canada Resources, Petro-Canada, Canada Hibernia Holding Corporation, Murphy Oil and StatoilHydro Canada Ltd.