UPDATED: A helicopter with five persons on board crashed into a mountainside in a remote portion of Norway’s famed Hardanger district Monday evening. It’s believed to the worst helicopter accident ever on the Norwegian mainland.
Three bodies had been found by Tuesday morning and two were still listed officially as missing but police later confirmed that all five had been killed. Search and rescue workers had little hope of finding survivors after what’s described as an “explosive” fire that was still burning several hours after the crash.
The victims reportedly came from various places in the region including the local township of Ullensvang. Local mayor Solfrid Borge told reporters that “many are in shock” and crisis centers were being set up.
Aimed to build a hytte
Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the helicopter, described as an AS 350 B3, was from a private firm called Airlift, which has a fleet of 17 helicopters specializing in emergency, transport and heavy lift operations based at the Førde Airport. Its pilot was based at Airlift’s branch in Kinsarvik.
It was initially reported that the helicopter was chartered to transport workers and material into an areas where they intended to built a holiday cabin known as a hytte. It later emerged that all those on board were members of the same family building the hytte. The crash occurred at Vassli inside the Hardanger National Park, in a wilderness area where there are no roads.
The helicopter reportedly was making its second trip of the day carrying persons into an area above Eidfjord. The first alarms came in around 7pm. Police said the person calling in the accident report had to walk for nearly an hour before he managed to get mobile phone coverage.
Three Sea King rescue helicopters and four air ambulances were sent to the area. The lack of roads makes air transport necessary to reach the remote crash site.
Police and emergency workers said it was too early to determine the cause of the crash and an investigation was underway. Norway’s state board that probes accidents, Havarikommisjonen, formed a team of investigators who were sent to the area early Tuesday morning.
Gunnar Nordahl, a spokesman for Airlift, called the accident “tragic” and said it claimed the life of one of the firm’s most experienced pilots. “Now we first of all need to take care of all those who need to be taken care of, not least the families involved,” Nordahl told NRK. “That’s our main focus now.”
He said neither he nor others at Airlift had many details about the crash in the mountains between Eidfjord and Kinsarvik. “We know very little, but it was a standard operation in connection with hytte (holiday cabin) building in Ullensvang township near Eidfjord,” Nordahl told NRK, adding that police had told Airlift all five on board had been killed. He called the helicopter “probably one of the most-used types in the world, solid and operationally secure.”
Airlift has 11 such helicopters in its fleet. The accident was the firm’s ninth since 1996, five of which have been fatal.
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