Hope ran out, officers declared dead

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Swedish police continued searching for and collecting the remains of a Norwegian military cargo plane and its crew of five Norwegian officers on Sunday, after wreckage was discovered earlier in the weekend and the aircraft was confirmed to have crashed into a mountainside in northern Sweden. All five officers were declared dead late Saturday night, and King Harald attended a memorial service along with hundreds of soldiers on Sunday.

“It’s a very sad day,” King Harald told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) at the military base in Evenes, northern Norway, where the memorial service was held and from where the Hercules C-130 aircraft had taken off Thursday, bound for Kiruna in Sweden. It never landed, and both the huge plane and its crew were described as missing until late Saturday.

Search still hindered
Weather conditions in the area varied but were mostly bad around the crash site west of Kiruna, with thick fog, extremely poor visibility, strong winds and sub-freezing temperatures. That severely hindered search and rescue efforts, as helicopters were forced to turn back and ground crews struggled to reach the area where the plane was believed to have gone missing.

For a while on Friday, military officials raised hopes that the relatively new Hercules aircraft had made an emergency landing, in which case the five highly experienced officers on board could have survived. When the weather cleared a bit on Saturday, however, searchers started finding bits of plane wreckage, clothing and body parts on the steep side of Sweden’s tallest mountain, Kebnekaise. Hopes of finding any survivors ran out, rescue efforts were called off and captains Siw Robertson, age 45, Ståle Garberg, age 42, and Steinar Utne, age 35, all from Oslo, were declared dead along with Captain Bjørn Yngvar Haug, age 40 of Ullensaker, and Lt Co. Truls Audun Ørpen, age 46 of Oslo.

“Our thoughts go to those who have lost their loved ones and to all the (military) divisions involved,” King Harald, who functions as the Norwegian military’s highest official, told mourners on Sunday. Flags flew at half-staff on state-owned buildings around the country.

Crash set off avalanche
Swedish officials leading the search efforts confirmed that accident investigators now know where the Hercules, whose crew reportedly had opted to fly without autopilot, crashed into the mountainside. One major challenge facing crews who still were looking for the aircraft’s flight recorder is that the crash set off an avalanche, which buried much of the wreckage. The area is also covered by snow and ice all year, further complicating recovery efforts.

The last radio contact between the flight and the tower occurred at 2:45pm on Thursday, and the last radar signal was picked up at 2:56pm. Captain Brynjar Stordal of the Norwegian Air Force told NRK that no emergency messages were issued from the doomed aircraft.

No cause of the accident will be released, according to the Swedish authorities, until they have assembled all the facts around the flight, the crash site and the circumstances around it.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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