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Russian rescuers arrive in Spitsbergen to help in missing helicopter search

An Il-76 plane with Russian rescuers landed about 2:30 Moscow time on Sunday

OSLO, October 29. /TASS/. A team of Russian rescuers arrived to Spitsbergen in the Arctic on Sunday to assist in the search of a Russian Mi-8 helicopter that crashed in the sea off the archipelago’s coast.

A source in Spitsbergen’s police department said an Il-76 plane with Russian rescuers landed about 2:30 Moscow time on Sunday.

The rescue coordination center of Northern Norway told TASS that Russians were greeted by Spitsbergen’s Norwegian governor.

Later in the day, Russian rescue equipment will be delivered to the search area on board a Norwegian multi-purpose vessel.

A spokesman for the local governor told TASS that the plan of Russian participation in the effort will be laid down on Sunday morning,.

"The crew are now being briefed by the governor and other representatives of local authorities, and the equipment is being unloaded," the spokesman went on. "After that, the Russians will be accommodated in Longyearbyen, where they will have a chance to sleep and have some rest, and in the morning we will complete discussing the plan of their participation in the search operation."

The Russian team comprises 40 rescuers of the Russian Emergencies Ministry’s two leading units - the Tsentrospas State Central Airmobile Rescue Team and the Leader Center for High Risk Rescue Operations. Among them are 17 divers licensed to conduct search and rescue operations at great depths.

The equipment will include two small-sized remotely operated underwater vehicles used for search operations in costal or inland waters. The rescuers are equipped with compressors, motor boats of unique class and diving apparatuses for examining underwater objects.

"With the help of an underwater system incorporating side-scan sonars, a hydro acoustic position reference system and a remotely operated vehicle, the emergencies ministry’s specialists are capable of examining underwater objects at a depth of up to 300 meters," a Russian Emergencies Ministry spokesman earlier told TASS. "It [the system] facilitates descents when underwater work is carried out in difficult conditions."

On October 26, a helicopter of the Conversavia airline, carrying eight people, was en route from the mothballed community of Pyramiden to Barentsburg when radar contact with the aircraft was lost. At 15:35 local time (16:35 Moscow time), a call alerted the rescue center that the helicopter had gone missing.

There were five crew and three employees of the Russian Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute on board the helicopter. It was in a proper technical condition and underwent maintenance before the flight, Conversavia said. An investigation was opened by the North-Western Investigative Department on Transport Safety of the Russian Investigative Committee.

The Arctic archipelago of Spitsbergen was handed over to Norway after World War I. However, more than 40 states have an equal right to use its resources. De-facto, only Russia and Norway retain economic presence on Spitsbergen. The archipelago’s largest island, which has the same name, is home to 2,600 people. The largest settlement on Spitsbergen is the Norwegian town of Longyearbyen, while the second-largest settlement is the Russian coal mining settlement of Barentsburg.