LENSK, RUSSIA (BNO NEWS) -- A helicopter operated by UTair Aviation for an oil and gas company crashed in Russia's Far East on early Wednesday evening, killing at least three of the four people on board, local authorities said on Thursday. The fourth person is presumed to have died as well.
The Eurocopter AS350 was flying from the city of Bratsk in Irkutsk Oblast to the town of Talakan in the Sakha Republic, but made a stop in the city of Lensk for refueling. It took off from Lensk Airport at 6:25 p.m. local time on Wednesday and disappeared from radar several minutes later.
"At 10:34 p.m. local time, debris was found in a remote area just 4 kilometers (2.4 miles) from the runway at Lensk Airport," a spokesperson for Russia's Investigative Committee said. "As a result of search-and-rescue operations at the crash site, the charred remains of three victims have been found, as well as pieces of the engine and the tail of the helicopter."
A statement from UTair said the helicopter had caught fire when it crashed, but gave few other details. It identified the four people on board as pilot Vasily Gordeychuk, mechanic Vasily Druzenko, and passengers Yaroslav Verezhak and Artur Popov. All four people who were on board are believed to have been killed.
The cause of the accident was not immediately known, but investigators said weather conditions were favorable at the time the aircraft went down. Russia's Investigative Committee has launched a criminal investigation on the basis of possible violations of safety rules, although such probes are normal procedure in aviation accidents which result in fatalities.
UTair said the Eurocopter AS350 was delivered to the airline in 2005 and logged a total of 2,044 flight hours. It said the aircraft underwent regular maintenance and said the pilot was experienced, having previously served in the Russian Air Force with more than 5,000 flight hours.
"UTair Aviation has grounded all aircraft at the Lensk Airport pending an investigation into the quality of the fuel supply at the airport," the airline said in the statement, without giving other details. "The airline has contacted the families of those involved and together with insurer works on compensations."
On April 2, an ATR-72 twin-engine turboprop aircraft flying for UTair Aviation crashed in a snowy field about 3 kilometers (1.8 mile) from Roschino International Airport in Tyumen, the capital of the federal subject which carries the same name. The crash killed 31 people while 12 others survived.
Russia has seen a number of major aviation accidents over the last few years, in part because of its use of old aircraft, although industry experts also point to other problems such as poor crew training, out-of-date airports, lax government controls, and neglect of safety to maximize profits.
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