Helicopter wreck found on seabed

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The Independent Online

The wreckage of the missing Royal Navy Lynx helicopter has been found on the seabed off the coast of Cornwall, the Ministry of Defence said today.

The wreckage of the missing Royal Navy Lynx helicopter has been found on the seabed off the coast of Cornwall, the Ministry of Defence said today.

An MoD spokesman said: "I can confirm the wreckage of the Lynx has been located on the bottom of the seabed following searches off the coast of Cornwall.

"An underwater TV camera system will be deployed to check the wreckage later today. Searches continue on the surface."

Contact with the aircraft was lost just after 7pm last night as it carried out a sweep 17 nautical miles off Lizard Point, Cornwall.

Earlier today a lifeboat crew searching for the missing helicopter, which had four people on board, reported finding wreckage and detecting the smell of aviation fuel.

Members of the crew of the Falmouth all–weather lifeboat, who joined the search for the Lynx, said they had recovered pieces of wreckage from the sea.

They also reported detecting "a strong smell of aviation fuel" in the water, an RNLI spokeswoman said.

The Royal Navy helicopter had been scrambled after two Navy ratings on board the frigate HMS Montrose heard cries for help coming from the water.

An MOD spokesman said: "The helicopter was responding to an earlier possible man–over–board alarm raised by HMS Montrose and HMS St Albans, which were conducting a warfare training week.

"A detailed search of the area is continuing and the families of those on board the helicopter are being kept informed.

"Following a roll–call on HMS Montrose and HMS St Albans all personnel were accounted for. However the search for a man–over–board from another vessel has continued in tandem with the search for the Lynx."

A French warship was in the area and had also said it had accounted for its personnel.

HMS Montrose and HMS St Albans were quickly joined by HMS Sutherland in the search for the helicopter, the spokesman said.

The search and rescue operation to find the Lynx continued through the night but three military helicopters taking part had to return to base at 3.30am to refuel.

The helicopters, two from RNAS Culdrose near Helston, Cornwall, and one with infra–red imaging equipment from RAF Chivenor in Devon, resumed the search at first light this morning. A French Falcon aircraft has also been deployed.

Aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious was co–ordinating operations at sea, aided by HMS Montrose and HMS St Albans.

A Royal Navy spokesman said that the missing aircraft was from the Royal Naval Air Station in Yeovilton, Somerset.

The families of the crew members were last night informed of the operation to try to rescue their relatives.

But as the hours passed fears were growing for the missing crew members.

Commander John Parris, Royal Navy spokesman, said that no SOS call had been made from the stricken aircraft but that it had disappeared from radar.

Three Coastguard teams were carrying out foot patrols along the Cornish coastline between Lizard Point and Falmouth, a Falmouth Coastguard spokesman said.

Lifeboat coxswain Alan Barnes said the lifeboat crew earlier recovered panels, the tip of a blade and what appeared to be navigation equipment from the water.

The largest piece of the wreckage they found in an area of the sea about 20 miles south–east of Lizard Point was the size of a coffee table–top.

There were no signs of the four crew members, Mr Barnes said.

Falmouth Coastguard said a 10–mile exclusion zone had been put in place around the spot where the missing helicopter was last recorded.

A Coastguard spokesman said it was normal practice to introduce an exclusion zone to keep vessels unconnected with a search out of the area.