COPENHAGEN, Denmark (AP) — A helicopter carrying Statoil workers from an offshore rig in the North Sea crashed Friday on an island off western Norway, killing all 13 people on board, rescuers said.
The Airbus EC-225 helicopter shattered into pieces as it slammed just after noon into the rocky shoreline of Turoey, a tiny island outside Bergen, Norway’s second-largest city. It was heading to Bergen from Statoil’s Gullfaks B oil field in the North Sea, 120 kilometers (74 miles) offshore.
“We do not believe anyone can be found alive,” said Boerge Galta of the Joint Rescue Coordination Center. The rescue operation was called off Friday at 5 p.m. after 11 bodies were found on land but divers were still looking for the other two bodies.
Eleven Norwegians, one Briton and one Italian were aboard the aircraft that went down for unknown reasons, said Jon Sjursoe, also of the Joint Rescue Coordination Center. The helicopter’s fuselage was found in the water off the island while its rotor system was on land, he said.
“This is a sad day for all those who work in the Norwegian oil and gas industry and for Norwegian society,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg told a news conference.
Police spokesman Morten Kronen said the helicopter was “totally smashed” after it hit the tiny island on a windy but clear day. Norwegian media posted photos of smoke billowing from the crash site. Witness Rebecca Andersen told the Norwegian newspaper Verdens Gang that the helicopter’s “rotor blades came rushing toward us.”
“Then we heard a violent explosion,” she said.
The aircraft’s data and cockpit voice recorders were recovered, the Dagbladet newspaper reported, quoting the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority. Calls to the agency went unanswered.
“All 13 were on a mission for us,” Statoil vice president Arne Sigve Nylund told reporters, declining to elaborate about their ties to Norway’s biggest oil company. He said after the “terrible tragedy,” all activities at the Gullfaks B oil field had been temporarily halted.
The Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority immediately banned helicopters of the same type as the one that crashed from flying in the Scandinavian country or near Norwegian offshore facilities.
The agency said its decision — affecting all Airbus Helicopters EC225LP whether registered in Norway or not — was “due to the fatal accident.” It was effective immediately and “would remain in force until revoked.”
The aircraft is produced by Airbus Helicopters, formerly known as Eurocopter Group.
Authorities in Britain were sending air accident investigators to Norway to help assist because the U.K. has investigated several crashes involving helicopters flying to and from offshore oil fields in recent years.
Friday’s crash prompted Norway’s King Harald and his wife Queen Sonja to cancel a trip to neighboring Sweden, where they had been invited to attend the 70th birthday celebrations on Saturday for King Carl XVI Gustaf. Instead, the Norwegian royal house will be represented by the king’s daughter, Princess Martha Louise, and her husband, Ari Behn.
According to Norway’s Accident Investigation Board, there have been few aviation accidents in the Scandinavian country that is one of the world’s largest offshore oil producers.
In January 2014, an Airbus Helicopters H135 — a small helicopter operated by the Norwegian Air Ambulance company — hit a power line on final approach and crashed, killing two people and seriously injuring a third. The board blamed the power line, saying it was difficult to spot from the air.
The largest aviation accident in Norway came in 1996, when a Russian Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft crashed as it approached Svalbard Airport in the Arctic, killing all 141 people aboard.