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MILITARY ACCIDENT

Defense Ministry reactivates search for missing Air Force helicopter crew

Reports that the three men had been rescued from waters off the Canary Islands retracted

Miguel González
An archive image of a Spanish Maritime Search and Rescue helicopter.
An archive image of a Spanish Maritime Search and Rescue helicopter.MINISTRY OF DEFENSE

The reported rescue of 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 has been thrown into doubt by the Defense Ministry.

Initial reports suggested that a Moroccan vessel had recovered the trio on Thursday night, but this version has now been retracted given that only indirect sources had been quoted and the three members of the military have still not been heard from.

Nor has the boat reported to have picked up the airmen arrived in Dakhla, as had been reported on Friday.

As such the search for the three men – who were traveling on an AS332 Super Puma helicopter, which lost contact with air traffic control at around 4pm Spanish time – is still underway. The aircraft is reported to have plunged into the sea on Thursday around 280 miles from Las Palmas, in the Canary Islands. Coastguard planes are currently searching the area, while the Spanish Navy has sent a team of divers to Dakhla to examine the remains of the helicopter, which has now sunk.

The Spanish defense minister, Pedro Morenés, is due to fly to the Canaries this afternoon in order to supervise the search operation for the three military personnel, one of whom is the sole survivor of another helicopter crash in March 2014.

One of the missing crew members is the sole survivor of another helicopter crash that took place in March 2014

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.

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 unable to determine if the three crew members were aboard.

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.

English version by Nick Funnell and Simon Hunter.

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