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ONGC copter with officers crashes

Mumbai: A Pawan Hans helicopter with five ONGC personnel and two pilots on board crashed off the Mumbai coast on Saturday, shortly after it had taken off for the state-owned oil exploration firm's offshore installation in the Arabian Sea.

The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation said in a statement that five bodies had been found and a search was on for the other missing occupants. Three of the ONGC employees on board were ranked deputy general manager.

A defence ministry statement said the wreckage had been located around 37 nautical miles off Mumbai.

The ONGC, coastguard and the navy began a search with helicopters and speedboats as soon as information came in that the Dauphin N3 chopper had lost contact with air traffic control at 10.36am, half an hour after taking off from the Juhu helibase.

The helicopter, headed for the oil rig "NQO" in Mumbai High North, 92 miles northwest of Mumbai, was scheduled to land at 11am.

"ONGC vessels and choppers along with the coastguard and the Indian Navy are combing the areas where the chopper has apparently crashed," the company statement said. "Identification of the bodies is in progress."

Shashi Shanker, the company chairman and managing director, arrived in Mumbai to monitor the search.

The company has key oil and gas fields off the Mumbai coast. Pawan Hans helicopters routinely ferry employees to the oil installations, some situated as far as 160km from the coastline.

The navy said it had deployed its stealth frigate INS Teg and surveillance aircraft P8i in the search. A navy spokesperson tweeted that four bodies had been found along with debris and life jackets.

The coastguard said that five of its ships, two Dornier aircraft and two helicopters had joined the search.

A senior official with the directorate-general of civil aviation said the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau, a civil aviation ministry arm and the apex body for probing accidents involving aircraft registered in India, would investigate the crash.

"Since it is a clear accident, this chopper crash will be probed by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau," the official said, adding that the directorate-general would extend all help.

"Search & rescue operations are under way. Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau will launch thorough inquiry," the minister of state for civil aviation, Jayant Sinha, said in a tweet.

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