Estonian helicopter crashed in Baltic Sea

A helicopter with two pilots and 12 passengers on board crashed into the Baltic Sea on the way from Tallinn to Helsinki, there is no report of survivors.

The Sikorsky 76 helicopter was on a scheduled commercial flight to Finland, when it went down in strong winds shortly after takeoff.

The Estonian maritime rescue service said divers were searching for survivors in the water, and there was no immediate word of casualties.

Kairi Leivo, a spokesman at the Estonian Embassy in Helsinki said the pilots were Finns and the passengers were six Finns, four Estonians and two U.S citizens. Their names were not released.

"It looks bad, indeed, for the people on board the helicopter. We have no news of survivors," said Timo Auranen, duty officer at the Finnish Maritime Rescue Center in Helsinki.

He said a Finnish rescue helicopter with divers was on standby in case the Estonians need help.

The helicopter took off from a heliport in the Tallinn harbor at 12:40 p.m. local time (0940GMT) and disappeared from radar screens four minutes later, the Baltic News Service reported.

When rescuers arrived, the tail section of the chopper, operated by Finnish company Copterline, was sticking out of the water while the rest of the aircraft was submerged, said Mati Raidma, head of the Estonian rescue service.

The helicopter then sank completely, leaving only scattered debris floating on the water's surface, the AP reports.

"We couldn't find anybody, only debris," Estonian rescue spokesman Aivar Muriks said, adding that divers were searching in water about 50-60 meters (165-200 feet) deep. "Apparently, the impact of the crash was quite hard," he said.

The cause of the crash was not immediately known. A storm in the area caused operators to cancel the fast ferries between Tallinn and Helsinki. Winds speeds of more than 70 kph (45 mph) were reported on the Baltic Sea.

Earlier Wednesday, fierce winds snapped the mast of a Polish sailboat in the Baltic Sea off the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. Nine sailors were rescued and taken to hospital in Poland, while the search for a 10th sailor believed to be in the water was interrupted because of bad weather.

Copterline has operated commercial helicopter flights across the 80-kilometer (50 miles) Gulf of Finland since 2000 without any previous accidents. The crossing takes about 18 minutes.

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