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Seven S. Koreans missing in helicopter crash near disputed islets

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Seoul (AFP)

Rescuers searching for seven South Koreans whose helicopter crashed into the sea shortly after taking off from islets disputed with Japan located the aircraft on Friday, Seoul officials said.

The helicopter had just picked an injured fisherman up from Dokdo, which is known as Takeshima in Japan, when it went down on Thursday night.

The chopper was located at a depth of 72 metres (240 feet), 600 metres south of the islets, a Coast Guard representative told reporters, but he was unable to confirm whether any remains had been found.

The aircraft was "not in its original shape" due to the impact of the crash, he said.

As well as the coast guard, members of the National Fire Agency and civilian boats were searching for the passengers, while the defence ministry had also sent planes and divers to the area, a South Korean fire agency spokesman told AFP.

The crashed chopper is a Eurocopter EC225, made by the European aerospace corporation Airbus.

The seven people on board were five rescuers, the fisherman and a civilian.

"The patient was on a fishing boat when he lost one of his fingers through an accident, and the crew took him to Dokdo and waited for the rescue helicopter there," the fire agency official said.

"The patient needed an immediate medical operation that could have only been done at facilities on the mainland."

Seoul has controlled the islets in the Sea of Japan -- or East Sea -- since 1945, when Tokyo's brutal colonial rule on the peninsula ended, while Japan still claims sovereignty over them.

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