Hercules plane missing, five on board

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Five experienced Norwegian Air Force officers remained missing Friday after a Hercules military transport plane disappeared Thursday afternoon while participating in the international military exercises called “Cold Response” in northern Norway and Sweden. Massive search efforts involving helicopters and 23 snowmobiles was underway.

Norway's Hercules aircraft were used in last year's Libyan operation for NATO, among many other assignments. PHOTO: Forsvaret

The Hercules C-130 J is feared to have crashed or been forced to make an emergency landing around 80 kilometers west of Kiruna in northern Sweden on Thursday afternoon. Norwegian emergency services in Northern Norway were alerted around 3:30pm by Swedish aviation officials that the military fight, which took off from Evenes, Norway with five persons on board, had failed to land as scheduled at Kiruna.

All five crew members, four men and one woman, are Norwegian and identified as Ståle Garberg, Truls Ørpen, Bjørn Yngvar Haug, Siw Robertsen and Steinar Utne, all from the Oslo area. Four of those on board were part of the 335th Squadron at Gardermoen, north of Oslo.

General Major Morten Haga Lunde told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) Thursday evening that he knew all five crew members well and that they were “highly experienced.” Norway’s fleet of Hercules aircraft were said to be relatively new with no history of mechanical problems. Military officials said Friday that if crew members survived a crash or emergency landing, they were “well-equipped” to survive in the wild for several days.

The weather in the area was described as very poor and extremely cold, with heavy fog and low visibility. Norwegian defense officials said they had no theories about what could have gone wrong, apart from weather-related hazards.

The flight path of the large four-engine transport plane went past Sweden’s highest mountain, Kebnekaise, and that’s where defense officials fear the plane has crashed. Haga Lunde described the plane as “very robust, designed to fly under demanding circumstances. They tolerate a lot, but can be vulnerable even with all the modern technology in the world.”

Norwegian Defense Minister Espen Barth Eide said news of the missing aircraft “was the worst message one can get.” He refused to speculate on what might have happened.

A Danish military helicopter that also was taking part in the military exercises in the area picked up an emergency signal from the mountainous area around Kebnekaise. Several helicopters and ground crews were searching in the area, with others standing by.

More than 16,000 military personnel from 14 countries are taking part in the Cold Response winter military exercises. Participating countries include Norway, Canada, France, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Sweden, Finland, Latvia, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Ireland, Denmark and the US, along with NATO forces.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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