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Helicopter Wreck Raised; Pilot Still Missing

A Finnish-Estonian salvage team has successfully raised the wreckage of the Copterline helicopter that crashed Wednesday en route from Tallinn to Helsinki. The body of one of the two pilots is still missing.

On Thursday and Friday, divers recovered 13 bodies from the wreck. The helicopter was lying on the sea bed at a depth of about 45 metres. It was in two pieces when it was lifted to the surface by an on-deck crane.

The craft, operated by Copterline, crashed just after takeoff on Wednesday afternoon. The Sikorsky S-76 went down close to Naissaari, about 10 kilometres off the Estonian coast.

The newspaper Helsingin Sanomat reports that one of Copterline's crafts had experienced problems with its rotary blades, which caused the turbine to overheat. However, Copterline's director Jorma Kaihola rejects the idea that this could have caused the accident.

Six of the passengers were Finns, along with four Estonians and two Americans. Both crew members were Finnish. The helicopter crashed four minutes after take-off, just after midday. Although the flight was delayed by 10 minutes, weather conditions are reported to have been within acceptable limits.

Copterline, Finland's largest helicopter operator, says the reason for the crash remains unclear. The company says all its helicopters were in a well-maintained condition.

The company's CEO, Kari Ljungberg, does not believe windy weather was a factor in the crash.

Copterline says the two Finnish pilots on Wednesday's ill-fated flight were highly experienced. The company has flown on the Helsinki-Tallinn route since 2000, with some 28 flights are made daily. Copterline resumed service on Thursday, but weekend flights will be cancelled.

Estonian air traffic controllers lost contact with the craft three minutes after take-off but said it did not send out any distress signal. The craft went down in strong gusty winds. Eyewitness reports suggest that two loud bangs may have been heard before the craft crashed into the sea.

Copterline was in the headlines last year when Civil Aviation Administration Officials imposed a temporary ban on its flights over the Gulf of Finland during poor weather. At the time, officials said Copterline crew members did not have adequate training and skills to fly in poor weather. After additional training was carried out, the ban was lifted.

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