A helicopter carrying seven people, including five ONGC employees, crashed off Mumbai’s coast on Saturday. Five bodies have been recovered, officials said.

The Pawan Hans chopper went missing after it took off from Juhu airport at 10.20am in Mumbai. The oil firm’s sources said the helicopter was in touch with air traffic control till an ONGC checkpoint ‘Papa’ but it lost contact 15 minutes later 30 nautical miles offshore.

According to sources, the helicopter – a Dauphin N3, bearing registration number VT-PWA – was on a normal sortie and was supposed to reach the oil rig at Bombay High at 11am.

The bodies of deputy general manager Pankaj Garg and VK Bindu Lal Babu were recovered near the debris of the chopper. R Saravanan, PN Sreenivasan, Jose Anthony, and pilots Captain Ohatkar and Captain Katoch were also on board.

ONGC vessels and choppers along with coast guard and Indian Navy are combing the area where the chopper has apparently crashed, the ONGC said in a statement, adding it pressed into action all resources to conduct search operations immediately after the mishap.

The Navy said it had deployed its stealth frigate INS Teg for the search operation while surveillance aircraft P8i is also being press into service.

“A Dornier aircraft and helicopters from Daman (near Dahanu) have also been launched,” a Coast Guard spokesperson said.

The spokesperson added “some debris has been located”, but did not say if it belonged to the chopper.

Union petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan tweeted: “Spoke to Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and requested for help from Coast Guard and other agencies in the search and rescue operations; CMD ONGC has rushed to Mumbai.”

A senior Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official said the aircraft accident investigation body (AAIB) will probe the Pawan Hans chopper crash.

AAIB is the apex body which probes serious incidents and accidents involving aircraft registered in India and comes under the civil aviation ministry.

Minister of state for civil aviation Jayant Sinha expressed deep anguish over the loss of lives.

“IndiaCoastGuard Ship on receipt of information reached area, located the debris, picked up a body at 1230 hrs,” he said on twitter.

In 2003, dozens were feared dead when an ONGC helicopter crashed into the sea on its way to an offshore exploration site.

(With agency inputs)

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