MOSCOW: Nineteen people died when a helicopter carrying oil and gas field workers crashed in a remote area of Siberia in bad weather, Russian investigators said Saturday.
The Mi-8 helicopter carrying 22 people including three crew crashed Friday night in the far-northern Yamalo-Nenetsky region some 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) northeast of Moscow, investigators said.
Photos published by the emergencies ministry showed the helicopter broken into pieces and lying on snowy moorland close to woods.
Fog and poor visibility had hindered the search for the crash site, as well as the rescue operation, according to the local emergencies ministry.
Russia’s civil aviation authority said that “based on preliminary data, the incident could be linked to unfavourable weather conditions” with low cloud, falling snow and gusty winds.
It said a special commission would assess the crew’s actions as they made the decision to to fly in adverse weather.
The victims died from multiple injuries at the scene, while three injured were taken to hospital, said a statement by the Investigative Committee, which probes major incidents.
President Vladimir Putin expressed his condolences to the relatives and loved ones of the victims, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov told Russian news agencies.
The helicopter was flying from an oil and gas field in the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk to the small settlement of Urengoi when it crashed Friday between 1400 and 1500 GMT around 45 kilometres from Urengoi, investigators said.
Due to poor weather, rescuers in a helicopter only located the stricken aircraft some seven hours after the crash.
Colonel Dmitry Alexandrov of the emergencies ministry in the Yamalo-Nenetsky region said in televised comments that the helicopter “fell on its right side, and the victims could not get out”.
The survivors were all passengers on the helicopter, the civil aviation authority said. They suffered serious but non-life-threatening injuries, Russian state television reported.
One of the survivors managed to call rescuers on the phone from inside the crashed helicopter, saying it “flew into strong winds and fell” Life News website reported.
The helicopter was transporting workers from a subcontractor of Russian oil giant Rosneft, TASS state news agency reported. Rosneft’s French first vice president Eric Liron travelled to the scene, the company said, quoted by TASS.
The region’s governor Dmitry Kobylkin announced a day of mourning on Saturday with flags lowered and entertainment events cancelled, calling the accident a source of “great sorrow for all of us.”
Mi-8 helicopters are widely used both for civilian and military transport and can carry around 24 passengers. Russia uses the helicopters in its military intervention in Syria.
The helicopter belonged the Skol aviation company based in Siberia, which has more than 20 aircraft and works with oil and gas companies including Rosneft and Lukoil, according to its website.
The helicopter was made in 1984 and had a flight safety licence valid till 2017, the civil aviation authority said.
The Investigative Committee said that the crash could have been caused by a violation of flight safety regulations, a mechanical problem or difficult weather conditions.
A criminal probe had been launched to investigate possible violations, it added.
A similar helicopter crash outside the western Siberian town of Igarka last year claimed 15 lives.