Two bodies recovered from the wrecked chopper that fell near the Dokdo islets in the East Sea on Thursday were returned to land Sunday morning and the chopper fuselage was completely lifted later that day, the maritime police said.
The two bodies, which were retrieved at around 9 p.m. the previous night, were transported via helicopter at 7:55 a.m. on Sunday to a Navy base on the island Ulleungdo, the Korea Coast Guard said. One of the bodies is believed to be that of a fire officer, based on the orange uniform.
The bodies were moved to Daegu on Sunday afternoon and sent to Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center, where DNA checks and other identification processes will be conducted. The identities of the two dead could not be confirmed by the bereaved families, according to the authorities.
Around 11:25 p.m. Thursday, a rescue chopper belonging to the National Fire Agency fell into the water just a few minutes after it took off from Dokdo, having flown only about 200-300 meters. Seven passengers were aboard: one person with a cut finger, five rescue officers and a friend of the injured person.
The two retrieved bodies -- both male -- were found outside the fuselage of the chopper, some 110 meters and 150 meters from the tail.
The fuselage of the chopper was discovered upside-down in the water earlier Saturday, with the snapped tail located some 90 meters from the fuselage.
Underwater rescue efforts were halted Saturday night due to fatigue on the part of the divers but resumed around 7:30 a.m. Sunday. The Navy’s Cheonghaejin submarine rescue ship has been leading the underwater salvage operation since it arrived at the scene Friday. Saturation divers from the Navy’s Sea Salvage and Rescue Unit will continue the search with the aid of 25 divers from the Coast Guard and the fire agency.
For the surface-level work, 15 vessels and five helicopters have been mobilized in the area within a radius of 54 kilometers around the point where the chopper was found, along with five dinghies to look out for remains that could have washed ashore.
Meanwhile, the Coast Guard said it had begun lifting the chopper around 12:50 p.m. Sunday and completed the operation around 2 p.m., about 62 hours after the accident. The rescue workers began setting up nets around the wreckage to move it to shore around 8:45 a.m.
Upon searching the inside of the chopper after it was lifted, the authorities announced that they had not found any bodies, including one they had initially believed was inside the fuselage. The authorities believe the body was lost during the operation.
“Although we had wrapped the chopper with two layers of nets, parts of the debris broke away due to heavy gears inside, and we think the body fell along with those broken parts,” an official from the Coast Guard said. “We believe the body will be close to where the chopper had been lifted and will proceed with a thorough search when the weather improves.”
The Coast Guard has advanced the salvage schedule due to continuing bad weather conditions and has suspended the underwater search for now. According to the Korea Meteorological Administration, as of 2:30 p.m. Sunday, rain and strong wind was battering the area surrounding Ulleungdo. The wind was expected to continue until midnight, blowing at 30-50 kilometers per hour over Ulleungdo and the Dokdo islets. The maritime police and the Navy will continue searching the surface of the water in the meantime.
The investigators said the chopper will be carried to Pohang on the Cheonghaejin submarine and transported to Gimpo Airport for further investigation to determine the cause of the crash.
By Choi Ji-won (firstname.lastname@example.org)