MILITARY ACCIDENT

Bodies of missing Spanish airmen found in sunken helicopter cockpit

Defense Minister confirms that the trio were still inside aircraft that crashed into the Atlantic

The remains of the helicopter, which crashed into the sea.
The remains of the helicopter, which crashed into the sea.

After a week-long search, divers have found the bodies of the three airmen who went missing after their Spanish Air Force helicopter crashed over the Atlantic Ocean, off the northern African coast.

Defense Minister Pedro Morenés met with the families of the crew members on Thursday evening to confirm their deaths.

A military judge has certified that all three bodies are inside the cockpit, based on a divers’ inspection of the wreck 40 meters under the sea.

Moroccan authorities had originally reported that the three men had been rescued by a fishing vessel and were on their way to the nearest port

After meeting with relatives of Captain José Morales Rodríguez, Lieutenant Saúl López Quesada and Sergeant Jhonander Ojeda at the Gando airbase on the Canary Island of Gran Canaria, the defense minister gave a brief press conference where no questions were taken.

The Maritime Search and Rescue AS332 Super Puma helicopter went down last Thursday approximately 74 kilometers off the coast of Western Sahara after it lost contact with air traffic control.

More remains of the aircraft, which was recovered from the sea.
More remains of the aircraft, which was recovered from the sea.

The crew from the Air Force’s 802 Squadron were flying back to the airbase from Dakar, where they were helping train Senegalese forces in air rescue missions.

Earlier this week, Defense Minister Pedro Morenés had said that the government was not ruling out any theories about the fate of the three crew members, after the father of one of the men said he believed they might have been kidnapped.

Before that, Moroccan authorities had reported that the three men had been rescued by a fishing vessel and were on their way to the nearest port. The Spanish defense minister released this information, which later turned out to be inaccurate. The Moroccan government has blamed the Senegalese navy for the erroneous report.

Defense Minister Pedro Morenés at the Gran Canaria rescue control center on Wednesday.
Defense Minister Pedro Morenés at the Gran Canaria rescue control center on Wednesday.EFE

Diving teams finally located the cockpit on Wednesday, after sharpshooters were sent out to help them control the large amount of sharks in the waters. The wreck was found thanks to the sonar technology on the minesweepers Turia and Júcar.

Minister Morenés said that the priority now was “recovering the bodies and bringing them aboard the [military ship] Rayo.” But he warned that “the terrible weather conditions in the area” and the need to prioritize the safety of the rescue teams could delay the recovery.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy expressed his condolences to the crew’s families and colleagues via his Twitter account.

English version by Susana Urra.

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