Four crew missing as Navy helicopter crashes into sea

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The Independent Online

A Royal Navy helicopter with four people on board crashed off the coast of Cornwall last night while taking part in a sea rescue operation.

A Royal Navy helicopter with four people on board crashed off the coast of Cornwall last night while taking part in a sea rescue operation.

The Lynx, based at the Royal Navy air station in Yeovilton, Somerset, was on a search-and-rescue mission 19 miles south-east of the Lizard peninsula when contact was lost shortly after 7pm.

Three Sea King helicopters and a French Falcon aircraft scrambled to search the area. A Falmouth all-weather lifeboat was also launched. "The families of the Lynx crew are being informed now," said Lorraine Coulton, a spokeswoman for the Royal Navy. "We can confirm the helicopter is thought to have crashed into the sea."

The Lynx helicopter was dispatched by Falmouth Coast Guard at 5.45pm after two Royal Navy ratings on board the frigate HMS Montrose heard cries for help. But all personnel on board the Montrose and nearby warships were accounted for. Soon afterwards the Lynx disappeared from radar.

"Just after 7pm we lost contact with the Lynx and we have ordered a major search," said a spokesman at RAF Kinloss in Scotland, which was co-ordinating the rescue mission.

The two Sea King helicopters from Culdrose and a third from Chivenor in Devon were using infrared equipment to search for the missing helicopter crew.

The Kinloss spokesman said: "[The equipment] can see anyone who is in the water. It shows up as a white image. That is what they are desperately searching for at the moment." He added: "It is dark and that is a major obstacle in a search like that."

The Lynxhas a history of engine and rotor problems. At least 15 servicemen have been killed in accidents caused by mechanical malfunctions in the aircraft over the past 15 years.

Three months ago a Lynx helicopter crashed in the Czech Republic, killing six British soldiers on board. Among the worst Lynx accidents was a crash in May 1989, when nine servicemen were killednear Mombasa in Kenya, while taking men on shore leave.

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