NORWAY ACCIDENTS HELICOPTER CRASH.jpg
Photograph: EPA/RUNE NIELSEN NORWAY OUT

All 13 people on-board a helicopter carrying North Sea oil platform workers that crashed on Norway's western coast are presumed dead, emergency services and police said Friday.

Two people were missing while 11 bodies were recovered when the search was halted late Friday. The search was to resume Saturday, police spokesman Stig Losnegaard told the Bergens Tidende daily.

The Norwegian Accident Investigation Board said the helicopter's flight data and cockpit voice recorders have been retrieved from the sea bottom and were to be sent Saturday to Britain for analysis.

Part of the wreckage was salvaged late Friday from the sea at a depth of 6-7 metres. The rotor blade was found earlier on a small island.

The Norwegian accident agency said its French and British counterparts were to offer help along with representatives of the Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority and the European Aviation Safety Agency.

The Eurocopter model EC225 aircraft was bound for Bergen from the Gullfaks B oil platform, operated by Norwegian energy company Statoil, when it crashed near Turoy, about 40 kilometres from the destination, with 11 passengers and two crew members.

"This is a sad day for all who work in the Norwegian oil and gas industry, and for Norway," Prime Minister Erna Solberg said.

"It appears to be a tragic accident and one of the worst in many years."

The crash was labelled as the most serious helicopter accident in the Scandinavian country since 1978, when 18 people died in the North Sea west of Bergen.

King Harald, Queen Sonja and the crown prince couple cancelled a planned visit Saturday to attend 70th birthday celebrations for Swedish King Carl Gustaf, the palace told news agency NTB.

The king expressed his condolences.

"It is a huge tragedy when 13 colleagues don't return home and families lose loved ones," said Arne Sigve Nylund, Statoil's vice president who heads its Norwegian continental shelf operations.

He said Statoil has shut down production at the oil field to allow workers to mourn, and clergy and crisis teams were en route to the platform.

The Norwegian Civil Aviation Authority grounded all Eurocopter EC225 helicopter models in Norway.

Weather conditions were fair and did not hamper the search operation, which took place at sea and on land.

Anders Bang Andersen, spokesman for the Joint Rescue Coordination for southern Norway, said 11 Norwegian nationals, one British citizen and one Italian were aboard the helicopter.

A distress signal had been registered at 12:01 pm (1001 GMT), triggering the search and rescue operation, Bang Andersen said.

The helicopter was operated by the firm CHC Helicopter Service, which said it was committed to find out what caused the accident.

Witness Jon Sekkingstad told NRK he heard a loud bang, and saw the main rotor blade fly off the helicopter and trigger an explosion when it hit the ground.

The Norwegian defence forces deployed three vessels and four divers to the crash site. The airspace there had been closed for non-authorized aircraft, including drones, local police said.

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