Eight missing after helicopter crashed into volcanic lake in eastern Russia

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A helicopter carrying tourists crashed into a volcanic lake on Russia’s far eastern Kamchatka Peninsula on Thursday, and rescuers were searching the lake for up to eight people who were still missing, authorities said. At least eight others reportedly survived.

The helicopter fell into the Kronotsky nature reserve, and the regional administration said workers were searching for survivors in Kuril Lake, which formed in the caldera and crater of a volcano.

Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said 13 tourists and three crew members were aboard the Mi-8 helicopter when it sank in the lake and eight people survived, according to state news agency RIA Novosti. He said that two of them were seriously injured.

However, the Interfax news agency quoted officials as saying the helicopter was carrying three crew members and 14 tourists when it sank in deep fog. He said nine people, including two pilots, survived the crash and the others were missing and feared to die.

The different numbers could not be reconciled immediately. The reports did not list the nationalities of the tourists.

Regional prosecutors were investigating a possible violation of flight safety rules.

The helicopter, manufactured during the Soviet era 37 years ago, was operated by Vityaz-Aero, a local private carrier. Its manager said it had recently undergone maintenance and was in good shape.

The Mi-8 is a twin-engine helicopter designed in the 1960s. It has been used extensively in Russia, ex-Soviet countries, and many other nations.

The area where the accident occurred can only be reached by helicopters and the fog was complicating rescue efforts, RIA Novosti reported. Several local emergency workers, including three divers, were conducting rescue efforts, he said.

Kamchatka, the pristine peninsula that is home to numerous volcanoes, is known for its rugged beauty and rich wildlife. The Kronotsky Reserve, which has Russia’s only geyser basin, is a major tourist attraction in Kamchatka, and helicopters regularly transport tourists there.

Changing weather often makes flights risky. Last month, an An-26 passenger plane crashed in Kamchatka as it approached an airport in bad weather, killing all 28 people on board.

(AP)