Russian helicopter crash kills 19 in Siberia

MOSCOW, Russia: Nineteen people were killed when a helicopter carrying oil and gas field workers crashed in a remote area of Siberia, Russian investigators said Saturday.

The Mi-8 helicopter carrying 22 people including three crew crashed Friday night in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenetsky region, they said.

Photos published by the emergencies ministry showed the helicopter broken into pieces and lying on snowy moorland close to woods.

Fog and poor visibility had hindered the search for the crash site, as well as the rescue operation, according to the local emergencies ministry.

The victims died from multiple injuries at the scene, while three injured were taken to hospital, said a statement by the Investigative Committee, which probes major incidents.

President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the relatives and loved ones of the victims, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.

The helicopter was flying from an oil and gas field in the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk to the small settlement of Urengoi when it crashed Friday between 1400 and 1500 GMT, investigators said.

A second helicopter went to the scene carrying rescuers and medics after the crash and located the stricken aircraft.

Colonel Dmitry Alexandrov of the emergencies ministry in the Yamalo-Nenetsky region said in televised comments that the helicopter "fell on its right side, and the victims could not get out".

The helicopter was transporting workers from a subcontractor of Russian oil giant Rosneft, TASS state news agency reported. Rosneft's French first vice president Eric Liron travelled to the scene, the company said, quoted by TASS.

The region's governor Dmitry Kobylkin announced a day of mourning on Saturday with flags lowered and entertainment events cancelled, calling the accident a source of "great sorrow for all of us."

A similar helicopter crash outside the western Siberian town of Igarka last year claimed 15 lives.

Mi-8 helicopters are widely used both for civilian and military transport and can carry around 24 passengers. Russia uses the helicopters in its military intervention in Syria.

The helicopter belonged the Skol aviation company based in Siberia, which has more than 20 aircraft and works with oil and gas companies including Rosneft and Lukoil, according to its website.

The Investigative Committee said that the crash could have been caused by a violation of flight safety regulations, a mechanical problem or difficult weather conditions.

A criminal probe had been launched to investigate possible violations, it added. — AFP