French helicopter crashes in Antarctica

AP News
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Posted: Oct 29, 2010 11:06 AM
French helicopter crashes in Antarctica

A French helicopter has crashed in Antarctica during rough weather conditions, and a search plane flying over the site spotted what they believe are three bodies, officials said Friday.

The fate of a fourth person on board was unclear. Those in the craft were four French citizens _ a pilot, a mechanic and two employees of the French Polar Institute, a state-run research center often known by its French acronym IPEV.

A distress beacon on the helicopter was activated Thursday night, about 62 miles (100 kilometers) from the Dumont-d'Urville scientific station in Antarctica, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said. That signal led to an international search.

A U.S. Air Force C17 and an Australian air force aircraft flew over the site of scattered debris from the crash. The Australian plane spotted what appears to be three bodies, a French polar research center said in a statement.

Officials were hopeful that the other French citizen on board was still alive, and the Australian AP3 dropped survival equipment near the wreck. Heavy clouds obscuring visibility have prevented any nearby helicopters from searching.

The downed AS350 Squirrel helicopter was operated in Antarctica from the French research vessel, L'Astrolabe, which is currently icebound about 230 miles (370 kilometers) northeast of the Dumont-d'Urville station.

An Australian ship heading toward the location was several days away. Australian rescue officials asked L'Astrolabe to continue heading to the site of the crash, "despite the difficulty of navigation in ice," the IPEV said in a statement.