Moscow: Russian divers today recovered five bodies from the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed into a lake in the remote northwestern tundra with 18 people including top regional officials and businessmen on board.
Two people were rushed to hospital with broken legs after the Mi-8 helicopter smashed into Munozero lake in a remote area on the northwestern Kola peninsula late yesterday, regional officials said.
With five confirmed to have lost their lives, the remaining 11 are considered missing and feared dead. Top regional officials including a deputy governor of the Murmansk region as well as the head and deputy head of Apatit, manufacturer of components for mineral fertilisers, Alexei Grigoryev and Konstantin Nikitin, are believed to have been on board the helicopter, officials said.
Tatyana Zakharova, a spokeswoman for the regional emergencies ministry, said that divers had found several bodies in the lake but declined to provide further details.
"The bodies are being raised," she said. Vladimir Markin, spokesman for the Moscow-based Investigative Committee, told Russian reporters separately that five bodies had so far been recovered.
Officials refused to declare the rest of the missing dead. "We are adults. Probably there`s no hope," Zakharova said. "But we will be hoping until the last minute."
"Until the bodies are found, they are considered alive," Apatit spokeswoman Olga Kryuchek said. The two survivors were found floating on the water fastened to their chairs, said Denis Pushin, spokesman for the Murmansk regional administration.
"Fishermen found them," Pushin said. "They have concussion and are in shock," he said, referring to the survivors.
He initially said the passengers were most likely on a fishing trip but later retracted his statement, noting it was "a working visit".
Pushin refused to identify the passengers of the helicopter. "I am not ready to bury anyone," he told AFP. "The passenger manifest is being verified."
A deputy regional governor, Sergei Skomorokhov, as well as several other top officials, are believed to have been among the passengers.
Investigators cited a possible aircraft malfunction and bad weather as likely causes of the crash. "The pilot found himself in difficult meteorological conditions, lost his sense of direction and hit the surface of the water," the Investigative Committee said in a statement.
Officials could not begin a rescue operation when they received the first reports of the crash yesterday due to poor weather conditions.
Some 100 people were working on the scene of the crash today, the emergencies ministry said. A regional police spokeswoman said earlier that the helicopter was carrying up to 19 people. Aviation crashes are frequent in Russia and are often blamed on ageing aircraft and poor maintenance.