Alta in mourning, campaign halted

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All the political parties in Norway’s northern city of Alta have halted their election campaigns following a helicopter crash during the weekend that killed everyone on board. Among the victims were the son and niece of local Progress Party politician Ronny Berg. 

Norway’s northern city of Alta is in mourning this week after a helicopter crash that killed all six people on board. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“We all think that it just feels completely wrong to keep campaigning in a situation like this,” Ole Steinar Østlyngen, group leader for Progress’ arch rival Labour Party, announced Sunday night. All the crash victims were young local residents attending the local Høstsprell music festival in Alta.

In conjunction with the festival, a local helicopter firm had offered sightseeing trips over the scenic area surrounding Alta for NOK 500 (USD 55) per person. Star student Kevin Berg, age 20, was among those seizing the opportunity to see his hometown from the air along with his cousin Kine Johnsen, also age 20, and friends Markus Vonheim (19) and Robin Karlsen (20). Also on board was a 22-year-old woman from Alta and the 27-year-old helicopter pilot from Sweden who were not publicly identified.

There were many witnesses to the crash, which is under investigation. It occurred early Saturday evening in good weather as festival participants, residents out golfing or otherwise enjoying the weekend afternoon could hear and see the helicopter overhead and then, suddenly, the crash and flames it sent up  when it rammed into a local hillside. “We heard the helicopter and could see the smoke,” Undis Strifeldt, who was among those sitting outdoors on the festival grounds, told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). Her son knew all the five young Norwegians on board.

“He’s having a very tough time now,” Strifeldt said. “This is just terrible, we all feel the pain and are just stunned.”

Three experts from the state accident investigations board (Havarikommisjon) were immediately sent to the scene of the crash to work with police on their official probe into its cause. The helicopter’s producer, Airbus Helicopters, was also sending a team of technicians to Alta while the helicopter’s owner, a brand new AS350 model, since reclassified to H125.

“We need to search for some strength together when life feels absolutely empty,” Ronny Berg, who leads the Progress Party’s delegation on the Alta City Council, wrote on social media. He was grateful for the support of fellow political leaders from Labour, the Conservatives and the Center Party, all of whom were entering the final week of their campaigns before local elections are held nationwide next Monday.

Alta Mayor Monica Nielsen called Alta “a city in deep sorrow” on Monday. “These were young people just starting their adult lives,” Nielsen told news bureau NTB. “The entire community is stunned by this, and we’re doing all we can to help those directly affected.”

The festival, meanwhile, was immediately cancelled, with its organizers inviting all participants to a memorial ceremony instead: “Very many people here knew the victims,” festival chief Stif Anton Eliassen told NTB.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund