MADRID (AP) — Spain's defense minister has acknowledged that his ministry wrongly reported that three crew members of a military helicopter that crashed into the Atlantic Ocean had been rescued. He said all three were still missing.
Speaking late Friday at a press conference at an air force base in the Canary Islands off northwestern Africa, Pedro Morenes said a message received from Moroccan forces was mistakenly understood to mean the crew had been rescued.
He blamed a "distortion of information" for causing a lamentable state of uncertainty and confusion.
The helicopter ditched Thursday about 280 nautical miles (520 kilometers/320 miles) from its destination on the Spanish island of Gran Canaria, having set off from Mauritania.
Morenes said an initial message from Morocco's armed forces said the crew members had been rescued by a fishing vessel and were "safe and sound."
"That information had an A1 category, that is it was certified as absolutely accurate and it was for that reason we made it known to the press," an ashen-faced Morenes said.
"It is a very painful situation," he said, adding that "we haven't found those persons either on the surface of the water, nor on a fishing vessel, nor know if they are in the helicopter."
Morenes said the helicopter, which had initially been found by a Dutch boat and been tethered to its side to try to keep it afloat, had now sunk in water about 30-40 meters (100-130 feet) deep.
Spain had deployed a rescue vessel with a remote-controlled submersible robot to search the wreck and would continue working with Morocco to find the crew, he said.