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Search underway for French helicopter missing in Antarctica

Reuters

Australian and United States aerial crews are looking for a French helicopter that went missing in bad weather on a remote Antarctic ice field. A distress beacon was detected, but the intercontinental rescue effort was unable to sight the chopper or make radio contact.

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The AS350 Squirrel helicopter, which has been missing since late Thursday, was carrying four Frenchmen.

They include the pilot, a mechanic and two staff from Dumont d'Urville research base in the French Southern and Antarctic Lands.

"The distress beacon of the helicopter is strong, so we know where it is located," said Australian Maritime Safety Authority spokeswoman Tracey Jiggins.

"But the weather conditions today leave almost no visibility, there is a cloud cover almost to the ground."

The helicopter had taken off from a ship, the Astrolabe, that helps supply the station,
although details of its destination were not immediately available.

The emergency beacon was detected about 100 kilometres from the base and 280 kilometres from the vessel, which is off the edge of the ice field.

The maritime authority said the helicopter was last observed at an altitude of just 10 metres, travelling at only 37 kilometres per hour.

"As it was flying low and slowly, we hope that they decided to land because they couldn't see," Jiggins said.

The helicopter is equipped with enough emergency food, Arctic clothing and medical supplies to last the crew at least a few days, despite temperatures between minus 1 and minus 12 degrees Celsius.

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