A research team of four French citizens has been discovered dead two days after their helicopter went missing during a heavy blizzard in Antarctica. The helicopter is thought to have crashed just after leaving France's main local base on Thursday.
AFP - Australian rescuers on Saturday confirmed there were no survivors from a helicopter crash involving four Frenchmen in Antarctica.
"They have confirmed that all four on board didn't survive the impact of the crash and the French team are currently conducting recovery operations," an Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) spokeswoman told AFP.
The AS350 Squirrel helicopter went missing Thursday after taking off from the French research ship Astrolabe, carrying a pilot, a mechanic and two staff from the Dumont d'Urville French Antarctic research base.
A distress beacon was activated but heavy weather hampered search efforts. An Australian air force plane eventually spotted the wreckage on Friday, with three bodies sighted among the debris.
The AMSA spokeswoman said a French helicopter touched down at the crash site, 100 kilometres from the French base, on Saturday afternoon and an onboard doctor confirmed there had been no survivors.
Australian and American officials from McMurdo Base were assisting with the recovery of the bodies and wreckage, she added. Responsibility for the matter was expected to be transferred to the French authorities by evening.
Officials had held little hope for the men, with rescuers spying three bodies strewn among a large field of debris when the wreckage was first spotted Friday. AMSA had described it as an "unsurvivable" incident.
The helicopter was last observed at an altitude of just 29 feet (10 metres), travelling at only 20 knots (37 kilometres per hour), sparking initial hopes that it had decided to land due to the extremely low visibility.
Dumont d'Urville, the main French Antarctic base, is situated on an island close to the magnetic south pole and is frequently buffeted by hurricane-strength katabatic winds, the force of which can prevent helicopters from landing.
The east Antarctic is known as the "home of the blizzard".
The icebreaking Astrolabe carries out regular round trips between the southern Australian port of Hobart and the base from November through to March, carrying both supplies and personnel.
It is currently icebound several hundred kilometres from the Dumont d'Urville base.
A vast colony of emperor penguins live near to the base, which was the backdrop for the hugely popular 2005 movie "March of the Penguins".
Subjects under research at the base include earth sciences, atmospheric studies and biology.