No sign of 16 missing after Canadian chopper crash

ST. JOHN’S, Newfoundland (Reuters) - At least one person was killed and 16 were missing in frigid, choppy waters off Canada’s Atlantic Coast after a helicopter crashed on Thursday while ferrying workers to two offshore oil projects.

A Canadian Search and Rescue helicopter takes off from St. John's March 12, 2009 to search for survivors of a helicopter crash off the coast of Newfoundland. REUTER/Greg Locke

One of the passengers was rescued and taken to a hospital and an official said another person had been found dead. Search crews had found no sign of the others, although they were wearing signal equipment designed to help locate them in case of a crash.

“At this time, all we’ve got is the debris field. There is no indication of survivors, but the search will continue,” Denis McGuire of the Joint Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, told a news conference.

The survivor, who was from St. John’s, was being treated in intensive care, local media reported.

Two life rafts pulled from the water near where the aircraft went down were found to be empty. The passengers and crew were wearing suits designed to help them survive in the water for up to 30 hours.

“We will continue to search until there is absolutely no chance that survivors will be found,” McGuire said.

The helicopter sank in the North Atlantic about 40 miles southeast of the Newfoundland and Labrador capital, St. John’s, leaving behind a debris field.

It was carrying 16 passengers and two crew and was heading for the Sea Rose production vessel at Husky Energy Inc’s White Rose oil field and the Hibernia oil platform when it sent out a distress call at 9:18 a.m. local time (1148 GMT).

Hibernia is 196 miles southeast of St. John’s, and Sea Rose is 22 miles farther away.

“The pilot did report that he was having some technical malfunction and was turning back to St. John’s,” said Rick Burt, general manager of Cougar Helicopters, which operated the Sikorsky S-92 transport.

Hercules aircraft, Cormorant helicopters and surface ships were in the area trying to find survivors in the near-freezing water, and the crews had equipment to search in the darkness.

Officials declined to speculate why signals from the locater beacons carried by the passengers and crew had not been heard. Passengers are required to put on the survival suits before boarding the aircraft.

Hibernia and White Rose, along with a third project, Terra Nova, produce as much as 400,000 barrels a day on the Grand Banks off Newfoundland. Companies led by Exxon Mobil Corp are planning a fourth development called Hebron.

The region is known for its vast oil wealth, but it also has some of the industry’s most hazardous operating conditions due to harsh winter weather, rough seas and icebergs.

Its most deadly disaster was in February 1982 when the Ocean Ranger, at the time the world’s largest drilling rig, capsized after being pounded by 65-foot (20-meter) waves, killing all 84 on board.

Rescuers said water temperatures were just above freezing, with waves of up to 9 feet, winds in the range of 25 to 35 knots and good visibility.

Fourteen of the passengers had been heading to the Sea Rose vessel and two were traveling to Hibernia.

Hibernia is owned by Petro-Canada, Exxon Mobil Corp, Chevron Corp, Murphy Oil Corp, Norway’s StatoilHydro and the government of Canada.