A helicopter carrying tourists has plunged into a deep volcanic crater lake on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far east and rescuers have been searching in the lake for up to eight people missing.
At least eight other people reportedly survived. The helicopter crashed in the Kronotsky nature reserve, and the regional administration said workers were searching for survivors in Kurile Lake, which was formed in a volcano caldera and crater.
Russia’s Emergencies Ministry said 13 tourists and three crew members were aboard the Mi-8 helicopter and eight people survived, according to the state RIA Novosti news agency. It said two of them were heavily injured.
The Interfax news agency, however, cited officials as saying the helicopter was carrying three crew members and 14 tourists when it went down in deep fog.
Interfax initially quoted regional officials as saying that nine people, including two pilots, survived the crash, but later reported only eight survivors were found while the search for the others was continuing.
The varying numbers could not be immediately reconciled. The reports did not list the nationalities of the tourists but said most of them were from Moscow and St Petersburg.
Regional prosecutors were investigating a possible violation of flight safety rules.
The helicopter is reportedly lying at a depth of about 100 metres in Kurile Lake, which is about 316m deep with an area of 77 square kilometres.
The helicopter, manufactured during the Soviet era 37 years ago, was operated by Vityaz-Aero, a local private carrier. Its director said the helicopter had recently undergone maintenance and was in good shape.
The Mi-8 is a two-engine helicopter designed in the 1960s. It has been used widely in Russia, ex-Soviet countries and many other nations.
The area where the crash occurred can only be reached by helicopters and the fog was complicating rescue efforts, the RIA Novosti reported. Several local emergency workers, including three divers, were conducting rescue efforts, it said.
Kamchatka, a pristine peninsula which 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 on Kamchatka and helicopters regularly carry tourists there.