A tragic accident occurred on Kamchatka on Thursday morning local time, Interfax news agency reports. An MI-8 helicopter with 16 people on board, 13 tourists and three crew members, crashed into the Kurile Lake in the Kronotsky Nature Reserve. Only eight of the people on board managed to escape from the wreckage, with two of them being seriously but not life-threateningly injured. All eight were taken to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskiy.
The tourists were on their way to an excursion by helicopter, which are regularly offered on Kamchatka. Apparently, there were technical problems during the flight, which led the pilot to attempt an emergency landing. According to the Kronotsky Reserve, there was dense fog at the time of the accident. It is suspected that the crew made a mistake during the landing attempt and subsequently crashed into the lake.
At the time of the crash, four rangers from the nature reserve were nearby. When they heard the impact, they immediately headed to the accident site in speedboats and arrived there within a few minutes.
“On Thursday at 09:25 local time there was fog on the lake, visibility was not more than 100 meters. We heard the sound of a helicopter but did not see it. Judging by the sound, it flew over the lake and turned towards the barrier. Then there was a loud noise – the helicopter hit the water. We immediately launched two boats and within 3-4 minutes reached the crash site, which we could recognize by the wave,” Evgeniy Denges, the district state inspector of the nature reserve, told the press service.
Upon hitting the water’s surface, the helicopter’s tailgates opened, allowing eight people, six tourists and two crew members, to self-rescue from the wreckage. The helicopter sank so quickly that they had to swim to the surface from a depth of about nine meters, according to one of the survivors. Fortunately, the rangers arrived there only a short time after and rescued the people from the 5 – 6°C cold water, in which they would not have survived for long without the immediate help.
The remaining victims, including a child and the pilot, could not be rescued on Thursday despite an intensive search on the lake. They are believed to still be in the wreckage, which was located 700 meters off shore and at a depth of more than 130 meters.
The search operation was resumed Friday morning local time. Rescue workers from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Ministry of Defense and other units continue to patrol the lake in an attempt to recover the helicopter from the lake. The recovery requires special deep-sea equipment, which has been taken to the accident site by the military. Interfax reports that attempts will be made to lift the helicopter using pontoons.
According to Interfax, a criminal case has been initiated against the airline Vityaz-Aero. Inspections by the supervising authorities had found numerous violations of flight safety and the working conditions of pilots. In detail, the violations apparently involve overwork and inadequate training of aircraft crews, including in the conduct of emergencies. Rostransnadzor, the Russian Ministry of Transport, noted back in 2020 that Vityaz-Aero “did not provide timely theoretical training and testing for the performance of normal flight procedures and for actions in emergency situations at least once in seven consecutive months.” In addition, problems were also found during inspections of the Nikolaevka airfield.
The crashed helicopter entered service in 1984 with its certificate of airworthiness expiring in less than a year, in June 2022.
Julia Hager, PolarJournal / Source: Interfax