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UK chopper crashes in North Sea, all 18 rescued

A transport helicopter crashed into the North Sea yesterday evening, but all 18 aboard were rescued from the chilly waters, British officials said.

Maritime and Coastguard Agency spokesman Mark Clark said the incident was "on the level of the Hudson River in the States," a reference to the successful splash-landing of a passenger jet into the Hudson River in New York last month.

"They're clearly traumatized and their cold, but they're walking wounded," Clark told Sky News television. "It's a very successful rescue."

The Super Puma helicopter was taking workers to a BP-operated oil field 120 miles (190 kilometers) east of the Scottish city of Aberdeen when it crashed at about 6:30 pm local time (1830GMT), BP PLC spokesman David Nicholas said.

The aircraft landed upright a few hundred yards (meters) from the platform and was kept afloat by inflatable bags designed to deploy when the craft lands on water, according to Flight Sgt. James Lyne, an assistant controller with the Royal Air Force's search and rescue organization.

The 2 crew and 16 passengers then made their way from the helicopter on to three rubber dinghies. Locator beacons aboard the vessels alerted rescuers to their position, Lyne said.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond said the rescue "averted what could have been a terrible tragedy."

The coast guard said the helicopter was owned by Bond Offshore Helicopters Ltd., which provides air transport for energy installations.

Helicopters are frequently used to ferry workers to and from oil and gas rigs in the North Sea. Jake Molloy, an official with the Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers Union, said there were about 50 flights a day between Aberdeen and the various installations in the area.

He said the helicopters tended to have a "pretty good record," noting that the last fatal crash occurred more than two years ago.

A message left with Bond Offshore Helicopters was not immediately returned.


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