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Search Continues For Survivors Of North Atlantic S-92 Downing

One Survivor Found, One Body Recovered

ANN REALTIME UPDATE 03.12.09 1430 EDT (UPDATED 2230 EDT): One person has been rescued and another presumed lost  following Thursday morning's downing of a Sikorsky S-92 in the North Atlantic. The search continues for signs of the other 16 persons reported onboard the helicopter, which was bound for two offshore oil rigs off the coast of Newfoundland.

Rick Burt, general manager of operator Cougar Helicopters, told Bloomberg the pilot reported engine problems while enroute to the rigs. He pilot had turned back towards St. Johns when the aircraft ditched in the ocean, about 31 miles off the coast.

Search crews have employed a number of fixed and rotary-wing aircraft to search for other survivors. All people onboard were wearing survival suits, which experts say should allow them to survive in the frigid waters for about 30 hours.

First responders to the accident site reported wreckage strewn on the water. They found two liferafts, though only one carried survivor onboard. Robert Decker remained in critical condition as of Thursday night, reports the New York Times.

Crews also pulled one body from the water, which has not been identified.

"This is a very difficult time for Cougar, our colleagues, our customers and the families," Burt said Thursday afternoon. "We are doing our best to support the rescue effort and to provide information and assistance to the families."

The US National Transportation Safety Board announced it will assist with the crash investigation, under the authority of the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada.

Original Report

1100 EDT: A Sikorsky S-92 bound for offshore oil platforms off the Newfoundland coast ditched in the North Atlantic Thursday morning, and efforts are now underway to rescue the people onboard.

A spokeswoman with the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre in Halifax told The St. John's Telegram the helo, with 16 passengers and two pilots onboard, appears to have made a controlled ditching about 47 nm southeast of St. John's. The rotorcraft (type shown above), operated by Cougar Helicopters, was transporting workers to the Hibernia and White Rose oil fields when it went down at approximately 9:20 am local time.

At least one person has been rescued so far, said spokeswoman Jeri Grychowski. "There's a Cougar [S-]61 on scene and they've recovered one person and they're en route to St. John's (hospital) with the individual. I've just been told that one person has been taken aboard the Cougar and was being taken to the Health Sciences Centre. I don't know about whether they pulled out a second person."

Local hospitals have activated emergency plans to handle what officials hope will be an influx of survivors. "We're trying to clear emergency rooms as best we can to prepare for these people," said Elizabeth Strange with Eastern Health, the Newfoundland hospital board.

Cougar Helicopters has not yet commented publicly on the accident. According to the company's Web site, all persons flying aboard Cougar rotorcraft are issued survival suits before boarding, which include integrated life vests and personal locator beacons.

FMI http://www.cougar.ca/, www.jrcchalifax.forces.gc.ca/JRCC_home_E.htm

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