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Hope ebbs for rescue of chopper mechanic

SHANGHAI aviation authorities were examining the wreckage of a helicopter yesterday to determine what caused it to crash, while rescuers said hope was running out for the copter's missing mechanic.

Three maritime patrol boats and a rescue ship were cruising the crash site last night as they searched for 50-year-old Yang Yongchang.

"It's been more than 24 hours since the crash, and the frigid waters are life threatening," said Wang Zuyi, an official with the Shanghai-based Donghai Rescue Bureau.

The search range was extended above and below the crash site at Waigaoqiao Port. But intermittent fog that has disrupted shipping traffic on local waters since Friday prevented the launch of a rescue chopper to reinforce the search effort.

The helicopter plunged into the sea at 11:20am on Sunday, a minute after taking off from the Snow Dragon, or Xuelong, China's only ice breaker, which had just returned from a scientific research trip from the Antarctic. The downed chopper was one of the two rented aircraft that had been used in the South Pole mission.

Leased from a Harbin-based firm, the helicopter was flying back to its base when it crashed about 70 meters from the ship.

Pilots Yang Hua and Li Baohui, and Tang Lijun, another mechanic, were pulled from the sea by maritime patrol boats and other ships that witnessed the crash at the port. The survivors were in stable condition yesterday at a Shanghai hospital.

Qin Gang, an official with the Civil Aviation Bureau of East China, said crash investigators would talk soon with the survivors to gather clues that might help them determine the cause of the mishap.

Witnesses said they heard strange engine noises from the chopper as it circled the Snow Dragon several times before plunging into the water.

Aviation investigators were examining the wreckage yesterday and were also trying to determine whether the copter was carrying an operating "black box."

A sonar system detected the wreckage nearly four hours after the crash, said the rescue bureau's Wang Zuyi.

A rescue ship equipped with a winch pulled the wreckage out of water Sunday night. It was spotted lying bottom-up on the sea bed nearly 1.7 kilometers from the crash site.


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