Helicopter with 16 on board crashes in Russian far east

Moscow (AFP) –


A helicopter with 16 people on board, most of them tourists, crashed in the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia's far east on Thursday, the local government said, with seven of them unaccounted for.

The Mi-8 helicopter came down in Lake Kuril in the Kronotsky nature reserve, it said in a statement.

According to preliminary information, "there were three crew members and 13 passengers on board", all tourists, it added.

Forty rescuers and divers were dispatched to the scene.

According to a local health ministry source, nine people were rescued.

"Nine people have been found, they are all alive," the source told Interfax news agency, adding that the search operation was continuing.

The fate of the remaining seven was not immediately known.

An investigation has been opened for violation of air safety rules, said the Russian Investigation Committee, which handles air accident probes.

The Vityaz-Aero helicopter was transporting the tourists to Khodutka, a volcano near the city of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky.

Kamchatka is a large territory with few inhabitants but is visited by tourists for its volcanoes and scenery.

In early July, an aircraft from a small local company crashed in the peninsula, killing 19 people.

Russia historically had a poor air safety record but has significantly improved its aviation standards since the 2000s.

The country's major airlines have shifted from ageing Soviet aircraft to more modern planes.

But maintenance issues and lax compliance with safety rules have remained a problem.