OSLO (Reuters) - A helicopter carrying passengers from a Norwegian oil platform crashed in the North Sea on Friday, killing at least 11 people, rescue officials said.
There were 11 passengers and two crew on board, all Norwegian except for one British and one Italian national, the rescue coordination center said on Twitter.
The helicopter was on its way back from the Gullfaks B oil platform, operated by Statoil, when it crashed.
Live pictures on Norwegian television showed plumes of smoke rising from the area, a stretch of sea with many small islands. Pieces of red debris could be seen on one rocky outcrop.
"The helicopter is completely destroyed," a spokesman for the Rescue Coordination Centre for Southern Norway said. "Rescue services are doing all they can to find people alive."
"We have not yet found any survivors. We are still looking," the local police official coordinating operations, Morten Kronen, told Reuters.
The area, just west of Bergen, Norway's second-largest city, has frequent helicopter traffic to and from offshore oil installations.
"I heard the sound of an explosion and I saw a black cloud of smoke," local resident Sissel Kleivdal Haga told state broadcaster NRK.
The aircraft was a Eurocopter EC225LP, the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority said, and was operated by CHC Helicopter, owned by U.S. private equity firm First Reserve.
Airbus Helicopters, a subsidiary of Airbus Group, which is what Eurocopter is now known as, said it had been informed of the incident.
"We are now assessing the situation and stand ready to fully support the authorities in their investigation," it said.
The Norwegian aviation authority said in a statement there had been problems with the helicopter model in 2012 "when errors in the main gear box were identified" but that the manufacturer had since produced a modification that was approved by the European Aviation Safety Agency.
Prime Minister Erna Solberg said on Twitter the news of the crash was "horrible".
(Reporting by Oslo newsroom; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Robin Pomeroy)