Wreckage of missing PNG helicopter found, 3 crew dead

The wreckage of a helicopter missing in rugged Papua New Guinea was found Friday and its three crew -- two Australians and a New Zealander -- declared dead at the scene, the aircraft's charter company said.

Singapore-based Hevilift said the debris, which "indicates a crash landing", was found by ground teams after the Bell 206's tail-boom was spotted from the air early Friday morning.

"Unfortunately our worst fears were realized this morning," said Hevilift's group managing director Paul Booij of the "harrowing" find.

"We are devastated that this has happened. Every one of us had hoped to find them alive and now we have to deal with the reality."

The search had narrowed significantly after a villager found plastic fragments from the helicopter in the thick Purari River jungle near Bawata village on Thursday, and the wreckage was discovered upstream.

The helicopter had been missing since last Friday when it issued a mayday call shortly after taking off from an InterOil drill rig in poor conditions in the mountainous Southern Highlands.

Booij said Hevilift -- which caters to mining and energy firms -- would conduct a "thorough investigation of what went wrong and why it went wrong, and will also be co-operating fully with all authorities in their investigations".

"Until those investigations are complete, we will not be entering into any speculation," he said.

Aviation accidents are common in Papua New Guinea, where rugged terrain and a lack of internal connecting roads make air travel crucial for its six million citizens and the growing numbers of oil, gas and mining workers.

by Jean-Louis Santini © 2012 AFP

Source: AFP
Date: Jul 13, 2012