A helicopter carrying tourists crashed into a volcanic lake on the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s far east Thursday, and rescuers were searching in the lake for up to eight people still missing, officials said. At least eight others reportedly survived.
The helicopter went down in the Kronotsky nature reserve, and the regional administration said workers were searching for survivors in Kuril 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 when it plunged into the lake 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. It said nine people, including two pilots, survived the crash, and the others were missing and feared dead.
The different numbers could not be immediately reconciled. The reports did not list the nationalities of the tourists.
Regional prosecutors were investigating a possible violation of flight safety rules.
The helicopter, manufactured during the Soviet era 37 years ago, was operated by Vityaz-Aero, a local private carrier. Its director said it 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, the 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.
Quickly changing weather often makes flights risky. Last month, an An-26 passenger plane crashed on Kamchatka while approaching an airport in bad weather, killing all 28 people on board.