3 vanish after helicopter goes down in East Sea

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3 vanish after helicopter goes down in East Sea

An aged South Korean Navy antisubmarine helicopter crashed into the East Sea off the coast of Gangwon during a joint maritime drill with the United States Monday evening, leaving its three passengers missing.

The Navy said the Lynx helicopter, carrying the 33-year-old pilot and two other passengers, crashed into the ocean at around 9:05 p.m. in the midst of the drill, which was intended to detect North Korean submarines.

The helicopter took off at 8:57 p.m. from an Aegis destroyer and sent out four distress signals before disappearing from radar eight minutes later.

A search for the missing passengers and helicopter was conducted overnight by the Navy, but the missing passengers have yet to be found as of Tuesday, although parts of the helicopter and the pilot’s helmet were retrieved.

“Through the overnight search, we found the helicopters door and parts of the fuselage, as well as the pilot’s helmet,” said a Navy official Tuesday.

There were no unfavorable weather conditions at the time of the drill, which was conducted to test Seoul and Washington’s readiness to counter any North Korean attack and to warn Pyongyang against aggression, following its fifth nuclear test earlier this month. The two navies ran a simulated attack on North Korean submarines sneaking into waters across the border by detecting them with maritime patrol aircraft and Aegis destroyers.

The helicopter was estimated to have crashed around 52 kilometers (32 miles) off the coast of Yangyang in Gangwon, in waters around 1,300 meters deep.

But it was around 67 kilometers from the Northern Limit, the de facto maritime border between North and South Korea, according to a Navy official.

The crashed British-made Lynx helicopter was deployed by the Navy in 1999 and was more than 30 years old, but the Navy said that it was not an old model and that it had undergone maintenance last month. The pilot was also said to be an experienced one with 770 hours of flight time under his belt.

The Navy said that it will suspend the operation of its 20 Lynx helicopters to avoid similar accidents in the future.

BY SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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