Three members of the Spanish military who were traveling in an Air Force helicopter that crashed 280 nautical miles off the coast of the Canary Islands on Thursday have been found alive.
A Royal Moroccan Gendarmerie boat recovered the trio on Thursday night and took them to the city of Dakhla in Western Sahara, the Spanish Defense Ministry announced on Twitter. However, their condition is not yet known.
The Maritime Search and Rescue AS332 Super Puma helicopter lost contact with air traffic control at around 4pm Spanish time after taking off from a base in Nouadhibou in Mauritania and suffering a breakdown.
The military immediately began a search for the aircraft after a beacon appeared placing it 280 nautical miles off the coast of Gando, Gran Canaria.
The three crew members were on their way back from a training mission with the Senegalese military in Dakar
Spanish Defense Minister Pedro Morenés also contacted his Moroccan counterpart to help with the search.
Around 7.30pm the crew of a Moroccan Puma helicopter reported that it had located the crashed aircraft floating in the sea next to a life raft in which they could see lit flares. However, they were at first unable to determine if the three crew members were aboard. Finally, the trio was rescued by the Moroccan Gendarmerie.
The three crew are two pilots and a mechanic – a captain, a lieutenant and a sergeant – who were on their way back to the Canaries after taking part in a two-week training mission with the Senegalese military in Dakar.
They were all members of the Air Force’s 802 Squadron, which is based in Gando and is responsible for providing rapid support to Canarian rescue services.
The accident is reminiscent of one that occurred on September 19, 2014 when another Super Puma helicopter also belonging to 802 Squadron crashed into the sea with the loss of four crew members. The only survivor was Sergeant Jhonander Ojeda Alemán.
Although the Defense Ministry has not officially confirmed the identity of the three survivors of Thursday’s crash, local newspaper La Provincia reported that one of them is the same Sergeant Ojeda. The airman’s father has confirmed this information to the ATCpress.com website.
English version by Nick Funnell.