4 French confirmed dead in Antarctic copter crash

AP News
Posted: Oct 30, 2010 8:10 AM
4 French confirmed dead in Antarctic copter crash

All four people in a French helicopter that crashed in rough weather in Antarctica were confirmed dead Saturday, Australian and French rescuers said.

Another helicopter from the Dumont-d'Urville scientific station in Antarctica flew to the site of the crashed aircraft and a doctor on board confirmed the deaths, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said in a statement.

The helicopter crashed Thursday night and its distress beacon was activated about 62 miles (100 kilometers) from Dumont-d'Urville. Heavy clouds obscuring visibility prevented searches by helicopter, so a U.S. Air Force C-17 and an Australian air force plane flew over the site.

The Australian plane spotted what appeared to be three bodies Friday evening and dropped survival equipment in case there were any survivors.

Those aircraft carried 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.

The institute said the bodies of the men were recovered and brought back to Dumont-d'Urville with the assistance of a Hercules C-130 sent by Australia.

"A chapel of rest has been set up at the base to receive the remains," the statement said.

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

France's minister for higher education, Valerie Pecresse, sent condolences in a statement Saturday.

Pecresse "expresses her complete solidarity with the whole of the scientific community of the poles, bereaved by this dramatic loss," the statement said. "She hails the courage and determination of the men and women who are carrying out their research in the extreme conditions of the polar regions."