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Russian copter disappears off Pacific
( 2003-08-21 11:05) (Agencies)

Authorities in the Russian Far East lost contact with a helicopter carrying a regional governor and 16 other people over the volcanos of the Kamchatka peninsula, emergency officials said. There was no sign of the craft hours later.

The Mi-8 helicopter had been flying with three crew members and 14 passengers, including Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov, from Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky to Severo-Kurilsk on the Kuril Islands in the Pacific Ocean, the Emergency Situations Ministry said.

The crew failed to make contact with ground control at the appointed time, and hours later there was still no word. Rescuers were focusing their search on a 125-mile-long swath of the Kamchatka peninsula, said Valery Molokanov, an officer in the emergency ministry's crisis center in Moscow.

Molokanov told Rossiya television that Russian border guards never saw the helicopter cross the Kamchatka shoreline on its way to the islands.

The search on land was halted after dark, but ships combed the cold waters in the area all night, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov ordered the military to mobilize forces for the search. Some 100 vessels and 50 aircraft are taking part in exercises this week along Russia's Pacific coast.

Officials were holding out hope that the helicopter made an emergency landing.

The water in the area is about 50 degrees at this time of year, making it impossible to survive for long, ITAR-Tass reported.

Officials Malakhov said the governor was traveling to the Kurils, which lie between the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific, to check on their winter fuel supplies and to examine the destruction caused by an Aug. 11 typhoon.

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