- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 12, 2009

ST. JOHN’S, NEWFOUNDLAND (AP) - Rescuers searched freezing waters for 17 missing people Thursday after the craft reported mechanical problems and ditched into the Atlantic Ocean off Newfoundland, officials said.

Of the 18 aboard, one was found. The others were missing about 30 miles out to sea, officials at a news conference said.

The survival window is about 24 hours _ but only if the people were wearing survival suits, said Major Denis McGuire of the Rescue Coordination Center in Halifax.

The condition of the survivor, who was flown to a hospital, was listed in critical but stable condition.

Two life rafts were spotted in the water amid the helicopter debris, but rescuers later confirmed they were empty.



“They’re still searching because they would have had their survival suits on,” said Jeri Grychowski of the rescue coordination center.

The water tempaturure was zero.

The S-92 Sikorsky helicopter went down 55 miles southeast of St. John’s, the provincial capital.

“Mechanical problems were reported, but we don’t know the nature,” Transportation Safety Board of Canada spokeswoman Julie Leroux said.

The pilot said he would try to turn back to St. John’s, said Rick Burt of Cougar Helicopters, the helicopter’s operator.

“This is a very difficult time,” Burt said.

Winds are fairly strong in the area, with six- to nine-foot waves, Grychowski said.

The helicopter issued a mayday call just before 8:00 a.m. EST as it was headed to Hibernia oil platforms, said Dave Bowen, also of the rescue coordination center.

The Hibernia oil field is located about 200 miles east of St. John’s and is owned jointly by ExxonMobil Canada, Chevron Canada Resources, Petro-Canada, Canada Hibernia Holding Corporation, Murphy Oil and StatoilHydro Canada Ltd.

The emergency room at a St. John’s hospital was being cleared for the possibility of “critically ill or hypothermic people,” said Deborah Collins, a spokeswoman for the Eastern Health board.

___

Associated Press writer Rob Gillies in Toronto contributed to this report.

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