Helicopter crashes off Norway coast

Rescuers work at a site where a helicopter has crashed west of the Norwegian city of BergenA helicopter ferrying passengers from a Norwegian oil platform crashed in the North Sea on Friday, apparently killing all 13 people on board, rescue officials said.

The 11 passengers and two crew on the flight from the Gullfaks B oil platform, operated by Norway’s Statoil (STL.OL), were all Norwegian except for one British and one Italian national, according to the Rescue Coordination Centre for Southern Norway.

“The helicopter is completely destroyed,” it said. After several hours searching for survivors, 11 bodies were found and the remaining two people were presumed dead.

Norway and Britain suspended commercial flights of the type of helicopter involved in the crash, an Airbus Helicopters H225 Super Puma, a workhorse of the offshore oil industry.

Airbus later said the grounding had been extended to the whole commercial fleet, 70 percent of which is used to support the global oil industry from the Gulf of Mexico to Asia and Africa.

Plumes of smoke rose from the scene in a stretch of sea with many small islands and debris could be seen on the rocks.

Several witnesses told Norwegian media they saw the rotor blades separating from the helicopter while still in the air.

“While I looked up, the rotor (blades) loosened and disappeared towards the north,” John Atle Sekkingstad told the website of local paper Bergens Tidende.

“After that, the helicopter turned north and I saw fire at the top of the helicopter, where the rotor had been attached. It caught fire before it crashed.”

The main body of the aircraft was lying under water, while its rotor was found on a rocky outcrop about 200 to 300 metres (220-330 yards) away, state broadcaster NRK said, quoting the rescue centre.

Oil worker Chris Andersen told NRK: “I saw the rotor separate … It was horrible. There was a huge explosion that you could physically feel. You felt the vibrations.”

The area, just west of Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city, has frequent helicopter traffic to and from offshore oil installations. Weather conditions on the day were normal.

Norway’s king and the prime minister expressed their condolences to the families of the victims.

“You are not alone in your sorrow,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg, dressed in black, said in an address to the nation.

Statoil halted production at the Gullfaks B platform, a visibly upset company executive told a news conference.

“This is one of the worst accidents in Norwegian oil history,” said Arne Sigve Nylund, Statoil’s head of production in Norway, adding that the helicopter passengers worked for different companies, but were all on assignments for Statoil. (Courtesy Reuters)

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