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Russian Authorities Suspend Search for Missing Helicopter - 2003-08-20


Authorities in the Russian Far East have suspended the search for a missing helicopter carrying at least 16 people over the northern Kuril Islands, off Russia's Pacific Coast. A regional governor is among the missing.

Emergency Ministry sources say the search for the Mi-8 helicopter and its passengers will resume at dawn on Thursday and will focus on a 200 kilometer stretch of the Kamchatka peninsula in Russia's Far East.

Several rescue planes scoured the area Wednesday afternoon, soon after learning the helicopter had failed to make its appointed radio contact. Hours later there was still no word. Night fell shortly thereafter, forcing rescuers to suspend the search overnight.

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has urged all available military forces to join in the search effort when it resumes.

Mr. Ivanov's call comes as some 100 vessels and 50 aircraft are participating in exercises this week along the Pacific Coast.

Sakhalin's regional governor is reported among the missing. He is said to have been traveling to the islands to ensure the presence of adequate fuel supplies to see the region through its long, bitter winter.

Some media suggest the helicopter could have made an emergency landing in an area out of radio contact. But rescue officials say they have no information to support such a claim.

Helicopter is the primary method of travel to many of the hard to reach regions of Russia's Far East and Arctic. But Russia's helicopter fleet is aging, and crashes have become common.

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