1 dead, 3 missing after copter crash over South Sea

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1 dead, 3 missing after copter crash over South Sea

A Navy anti-submarine helicopter apparently crashed during a patrol mission above the South Sea, the military said yesterday.

According to the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Lynx helicopter disappeared around 9 p.m. on Thursday night during its patrol above the waters about 14.5 kilometers (nine miles) southeast of the island of Jindo in South Jeolla. After a search mission, the military found the body of Lieutenant Kwon Dae-ha, one of the four crew members on the aircraft. The others are still missing.

“We lost communication with the Navy aircraft around 8:58 p.m.,” said Park Sung-wu, spokesman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “Because we are no longer able to contact the helicopter, we believe it has gone down.”

Kwon’s body was found shortly after midnight, along with a seat and other floating debris.

The helicopter was conducting a patrol mission for the waters south of the peninsula, including the surveillance of possible maritime infiltrators, Lee Gi-sik, chief of information operations at the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said yesterday. The missing aircraft belongs to the Navy’s Third Fleet.

“The helicopter was conducting a routine mission. Since the Cheonan’s sinking, the Second Fleet Command has upgraded alert levels, so we have been operating all missions, but the Third Fleet has been operating normally,” Lee said. “But surveillance missions were upgraded because it was a moonless night.”

In the past, North Korea had tried to break into the South using a semi-submersible through the South Sea off Yeosu of the Jeolla region, but the South’s Navy successfully blocked the attempt by sinking the infiltrator.

The helicopter is armed with anti-submarine torpedoes and anti-ship missiles.

The Navy and Coast Guard were still working to locate the missing aircraft and crew, Lee said.

Yesterday’s crash was the third fatal military aircraft accident in two months. On March 2, two Air Force F-5 fighter jets crashed during a training exercise, killing three pilots. A day later, an Army 500MD light utility helicopter crashed during a drill. Two pilots were killed.

Meanwhile, an Army private first class died in a gunfire accident on Wednesday at a base near the eastern inter-Korean border, a military source said Thursday.

The 19-year-old soldier was found by two of his fellow soldiers on the ground with a gunshot wound to his chest around 8 a.m., the source said. The private was rushed to a hospital but died two hours later, the source said.

“After a probe, we learned that the bullet that killed the soldier came from the gun that belonged to him,” the official said. “We are investigating the case further.”

By Ser Myo-ja, Kim Min-seok [myoja@joongang.co.kr]

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