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(5th LD) 2 bodies retrieved, fuselage salvaged in chopper crash near Dokdo

All Headlines 18:48 November 03, 2019

(ATTN: UPDATES with KBS's apology over video footage in last four paras)

DONGHAE, South Korea, Nov. 3 (Yonhap) -- The Coast Guard has recovered the bodies of two people from the rescue chopper that crashed into the East Sea, officials said Sunday, with five others remaining missing.

The rescue chopper, carrying seven people, including an injured person, crashed into the East Sea on Thursday night shortly after its takeoff from the easternmost islets of Dokdo. The rescue chopper had apparently been on a mission to save the wounded person from a fishing boat.

The Coast Guard found two victims on Saturday. Their bodies have been retrieved and transported to the families.

On Sunday, rescue officials successfully lifted the fuselage of the firefighting helicopter from the waters near Dokdo.

They said a third victim trapped inside the chopper's body was lost along with some damaged parts over the course of the salvage. They had initially announced they found the first two victims near the tail rotor and the third victim inside the fuselage would be retrieved once the wreckage was lifted on to a Navy vessel.

One of the two victims found is believed to be a firefighter, given the clothing of the victim that bears the features of a uniform.

"One was topless and wearing navy pants, while the other had put on an orange top and navy pants, which tell us that he may well be one of the firefighters," a Coast Guard official told a briefing.

The rescue team will continue the search efforts to locate the five missing, it said. The salvaged wreck will be moved to the port city of Pohang before it is delivered to Gimpo airport in western Seoul for further analysis. The exact cause of the accident has yet to be determined.

The rescue officials earlier unsuccessfully tried to reach the chopper's body underwater and said they decided to swiftly launch the salvage operation to retrieve the chopper and victim together.

The Donghae Coast Guard said earlier that its team managed to move the fuselage to safer waters by noon and launched the operation to lift the chopper onto the surface. The rescue workers had installed a mesh netting around the helicopter to begin the salvaging process.

A destroyed rescue helicopter is salvaged from the waters in the East Sea by a Navy vessel on Nov. 3, 2019, four days after the crash that happened shortly after its takeoff from the easternmost islets of Dokdo, in this photo provided by the Donghae Coast Guard. Three victims have been found, with four others still missing. (PHOTO NOT FOR SALE) (Yonhap)

The authorities said earlier the operation was being impeded by unfavorable weather conditions.

A high seas watch was issued for the waters near Dokdo early Sunday and strong winds and a thunderstorm were forecast for the islets and Ulleung Island until midnight, according to the Daegu-based weather agency.

Dozens of Navy and Coast Guard vessels, as well as helicopters and airplanes, have been mobilized for the search operation in the area spanning some 54 kilometers south of Dokdo. At least 25 divers are working at the scene for the rescue mission.

A Coast Guard helicopter, carrying two bodies retrieved from the chopper crash site, arrives on Ulleung Island off the country's east coast on Nov. 3, 2019. (Yonhap)

Meanwhile, South Korean public broadcaster KBS apologized after its staff was found to have refused a rescue worker's request to share a video footage of the helicopter before its crash.

In comments in a local portal site on Saturday, a Coast Guard official involved in the rescue operation criticized a KBS camera crew for lying to him that there was no video related to the incident and then airing exclusive footage of the helicopter shortly after its takeoff on the Saturday evening news.

On Sunday, KBS apologized for the staff's shooting of the site without prior approval, lying to the Coast Guard and airing the footage without thoroughly checking the source.

After the controversy, KBS said it has sent the related footage to the government's investigation team and is cooperating with rescue workers using its panoramic cameras in Dokdo.

elly@yna.co.kr
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