A helicopter carrying 13 tourists into a deep volcanic crater lake on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far east has crashed and rescuers are searching for up to eight people missing, officials say.
- A reported 16 people were on board the flight, eight are missing
- Regional prosecutors are investigating a possible violation of flight safety rules
- The helicopter’s director said it had recently undergone maintenance and was in good shape
The helicopter with 16 on board crashed on Thursday local time in the Kronotsky nature reserve, which has Russia’s only geyser basin and is a major tourist attraction with helicopters regularly carrying tourists there.
The regional administration said workers were searching for survivors in Kurile Lake, which was formed in a volcano caldera and crater.
Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said 13 tourists and three crew members were aboard the Mi-8 helicopter and eight people survived, according to the state RIA Novosti news agency.
It said two of them were heavily injured.
The Interfax news agency, however, cited officials as saying the helicopter was carrying three crew members and 14 tourists when it went down in deep fog.
Interfax initially quoted regional officials as saying that nine people, including two pilots, survived the crash, but later reported that only eight survivors were found while the search for the others is continuing.
The varying numbers could not be immediately reconciled.
The reports did not list the nationalities of the tourists, but said most of them were from Moscow and St Petersburg.
Regional prosecutors were investigating a possible violation of flight safety rules.
Difficult rescue mission
The helicopter reportedly is lying at a depth of about 100 metres in Kurile Lake, which is up to 316 metres deep with an area of 77 square kilometres.
The helicopter, manufactured during the Soviet era 37 years ago, was operated by Vityaz-Aero, a local private carrier.
Its director said it had recently undergone maintenance and was in good shape.
The area where the crash occurred can only be reached by helicopters and the fog was complicating rescue efforts, the RIA Novosti reported.
Several local emergency workers, including three divers, were conducting rescue efforts, it said.
The pristine Kamchatka peninsula is home to numerous volcanoes and is known for its rugged beauty and rich wildlife, although quickly changing weather often makes flights risky.
Last month, a 26-passenger plane crashed on Kamchatka while approaching an airport in bad weather, killing all 28 people on board.
There are an estimated 20,000 bears on Kamchatka and they occasionally roam into settlements looking for food.