Reindeer round-up turned fatal

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An investigation was underway Thursday into the crash of a helicopter in Northern Norway that killed both of its passengers. The crash occurred while they were flying over a mountainous area near Mosjøen, to round up reindeer.

Search and rescue workers found the wreckage and the bodies of both the helicopter’s Swedish pilot and his Norwegian passenger on Wednesday night, several hours after the first alarms came in. Bad weather with heavy snowfall hindered rescue efforts, with the first air ambulance forced to turn around after being sent to the site where the helicopter was believed to have crashed.

It took two more hours for the search and rescue crews to find the helicopter, east of Mosjøen in Vefsn. The pilot was said to be in his 60s and his passenger, who owned the reindeer that were being rounded up, was in his 40s.

“We had sent out a rescue helicopter,” operations leader Sven-Rune Nikolaisen at Hovedredningssentralen for Northern Norway in Bodø told newspaper Aftenposten. “And an ambulance helicopter was sent from Brønnøysund. Search teams on snowmobiles and other ground crews also headed out. But the ambulance helicopter had to turn around because of the heavy snowfall and lack of visibility.”

Emergency signals from the crashed helicopter led search crews to the site but it took time to reach. The helicopter was said to be a Robinison 44 from the Swedish firm Jämtlands Flyg, and the cause of its crash was under probe.

A third person involved in the reindeer round-up was on the ground in the area and had reportedly followed the helicopter’s movements. He reportedly heard noises from the helicopter before it suddenly went quiet.

“He alerted police, and at around the same time, the search and rescue service got the emergency signal from the helicopter,” Jens Berget of the Helgeland Police District told TV2.

Aviation officials were critical that the helicopter was out flying in such bad weather. “This type of helicopter can only fly based on visual indications, what the pilot can actually see,” Geir Hamre of the state aviation authority Luftfartstilsynet told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). A so-called “white-out” in heavy snow would hinder visibility, he said, “and if the pilot loses contact with the ground, you have a problem.”

The weather at the time was so bad and visibility so poor that the the helicopter base at Brønnøysund, about 160 kilometers away, had closed on Wednesday afternoon, according to local newspaper Brønnøysundsavis.

Helicopters used in rounding up reindeer in Norway must have special approval to fly low. The one that crashed had such approval in Sweden, which also applied over the border in Norway.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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