7.5.4 General considerations, helicopters
Three helicopters in Finland and four in Sweden had been on stand-by. These were the first to be summoned. In addition, Denmark had two helicopters on stand-by under an agreement to assist in Swedish SAR operations when necessary.
Both in Finland and in Sweden the crews of the helicopters were on stand-by at their homes. The requirement in Sweden is that the helicopter has to take off within the stipulated readiness period. The requirement in Finland is that the crew is obliged to arrive at the base within the readiness period. In practice, Finnish helicopters are also able to take off within this period.
Planning of action
At 0325 hrs the deputy commander of the rescue operation determined as the principle for the use of the helicopters that they would retrieve people from the sea and from the rafts and take them to the nearest passenger ferries. This was intended to optimise use of the helicopters and minimize transfer flights.
The Finnish helicopters OH-HVG and OH-HVD landed on the passenger ferries, but the other helicopters took the rescued survivors to land-based locations. Landing on heaving and rolling ferries was considered too dangerous. The pilot of OH-HVG stated that landing on the ferries was the most difficult part of the whole rescue operation.
The medical executive team at MRCC Turku immediately started to raise medical readiness and decided at 0245 hrs to send a team headed by a physician to the coastal island fortress of Utö, the closest island to the scene of the accident. However, no helicopters were available for transport, so a team headed by a physician was sent from Mariehamn to Utö at 0620 hrs.
When it became clear that not all the rescued survivors could be carried to the vessels, MRCC Turku gave instructions to bring them to Utö as necessary. The reasons were that the flight time would be shorter and the risk of hypothermia less. Utö thus became the most important assembly point for survivors, of whom the helicopters brought 24 to the fortress for transfer to hospital care. The fortress personnel, guided by nurses, attended to the survivors' treatment. The medical team arrived at Utö at about 0650 hrs.
The use of Utö as an assembly point became more difficult by 0630 hrs when the supply of helicopter fuel ran out. Helicopters were advised to fly to Nauvo, Turku or Hanko for refuelling. MRCC Turku ordered hospitals to prepare to receive patients, and ground transport was organised from the refuelling sites to the hospitals. Helicopters arriving in Turku for refuelling landed first at the Turku University Central Hospital landing site to leave the survivors before proceeding to the base for refuelling.
OSC continuously advised the helicopters regarding the refuelling sites. Their crews could assume that the ground transport of survivors from the refuelling sites had been arranged.
Up to 0600 hrs four rescue helicopters operated in the area and four more arrived at dawn, somewhat before 0600 hrs.
At the break of day the operational possibilities for the helicopters improved, and liferafts were found more quickly and easily than in the dark using searchlights.
The last survivors were found at about 0900 hrs. At about 1000 hrs the helicopters were instructed to lift also bodies observed and reported by the vessels.
On the same day, by 1330 hrs, all liferafts had been examined. After this, seven Finnish and three Swedish helicopters remained at the scene. The others were released from duty to return to their bases.
On the day of the accident, 26 helicopters participated in the rescue operation and search for bodies. Of these eight came from Finland, 14 from Sweden, one from Estonia, two from Denmark and one from the Russian Federation. In addition five helicopters served as logistical support, e.g. by transporting first-aid personnel.
The helicopters continued their search and retrieval until dark, when the search was broken off and they returned to their bases. The helicopters operated in the area for about 15 hours, from 0305 hrs to 1800 hrs.
The search for and retrieval of bodies and objects in the water continued until 2 October, after which searches continued in connection with the regular patrol flights of aircraft and helicopters.
The helicopters rescued 104 persons and found 92 bodies within the first days. The correct number of bodies, 92, differs slightly from the total obtained by summing the numbers of bodies given by the pilots.
Section 7.5.5 describes the results of the helicopter operations up to the evening of 28 September in the order in which the helicopters first arrived at the scene of the accident. The search for the deceased on the following days is dealt with only briefly. Additional data about the helicopter operations are given in Table 7.7.
Table 7.7 Helicopter operations (click image for close-up and Table 7.7).
Click image for close-up
At 0300 hrs MRCC Turku sent a tank truck to Nauvo to establish a refuelling site for helicopters. Later during the morning a tank truck was also sent to Hanko to replenish the supply there.
Utö had a permanent refuelling facility for maritime rescue helicopters. The oil spill exercise that had been conducted during the previous evening had depleted this, however, and a new supply did not arrive until the following day. Meanwhile, the refuelling took place in Hanko and Nauvo.
At 1000 hrs the Hanko fuel supply was exhausted and later during the morning a tank truck was sent there.
Meals for the helicopter crews had also been arranged at the refuelling sites.
7.5.5 Action by SAR helicopters
OH-HVG (Super Puma)
The stand-by helicopter OH-HVG, taking off at 0230 hrs from Turku and arriving at the scene of the accident at 0305 hrs, began its search in the darkness, using its searchlights to locate people in the water.
During its first rescue flight OH-HVG inspected four liferafts and rescued four persons, who were taken to the SILJA SYMPHONY.
The crew of OH-HVG noted that the darkness made it difficult to see people floating in lifejackets even if searchlights were used. The use of only one rescue man proved to be slow and dangerous, and at 0445 hrs OH-HVG flew to Turku to pick up a second rescue man. On the same trip, it flew the air operations co-ordinator to the scene.
During the second flight, from 0515 hrs to 0915 hrs, several rafts were inspected. Forty survivors were rescued, and one body was retrieved. Of the survivors 11 were flown to the Mariella, 16 to the Silja Symphony and 13 to Nauvo. In Nauvo they were met by a physician and ambulances. The survivors were taken to a health centre and from there the ten worst cases were taken to hospital.
During its third flight, from 0930 hrs to 1230 hrs, OH-HVG inspected 25 rafts, but only dead people were found.
After a change of crew, and maintenance of the helicopter, OH-HVG transported representatives of the media to the scene of the accident and to Utö, and then back to Turku.
During the fourth search mission, from 1600 hrs to 1915 hrs, bodies were retrieved from liferafts and from the sea. After this flight, OH-HVG flew back to Hanko. On its return flight from Hanko to Turku, from 1950 hrs to 2100 hrs, OH-HVG flew by way of the scene of the accident in order to carry out a search.
During the following two days OH-HVG was engaged in search operations and picking up bodies. In several statistics published after the accident, the number of survivors rescued by OH-HVG has been given as 37. This number has also been reported by the crew. In reality the helicopter rescued 44 people. This has been verified from the vessels' and the Nauvo assembly point log books.
Q 97 (Super Puma)
The Swedish stand-by helicopter Q 97 took off from Visby at 0250 hrs, arriving at the scene of the accident at 0350 hrs. The OSC requested the helicopter to pick up as many people as possible from the sea.
On its first flight Q 97 rescued six survivors from the keels of two upside-down lifeboats. As instructed by the OSC, Q 97 flew them to Utö, where it landed at 0500 hrs. During the stop the crew called ARCC Arlanda, informing about the situation at the scene and asking for as many helicopters as possible.
After refuelling, Q 97 returned at 0540 hrs to the scene and rescued nine survivors, five from a liferaft and four from the water. They were in very poor condition. The pilot decided to take them directly to Hanko on the mainland. Q 97 landed at a sports field in Hanko at 0735 hrs, and local residents quickly summoned ambulances to the field. The crew was advised to fly to the Hanko coast guard station landing field, where they could refuel.
Q 97 took off from Hanko for the accident scene at 0810 hrs and returned to Hanko at 1050 hrs. After refuelling Q 97 returned to its base and finished the mission at 1615 hrs.
Y 65 (Boeing Kawasaki)
The Swedish stand-by helicopter Y 65 took off from Berga at 0320 hrs. Because the MBS system was shut down that night due to a malfunction, the alerting of the crew was delayed ten minutes. When the pilot heard from Berga that the ESTONIA had presumably sunk, he decided to fly directly to the scene of the accident without, according to routines, picking up medical personnel from Huddinge Hospital.
On arriving at the scene of the accident at 0400 hrs, Y 65 observed a large number of liferafts to the east of the SILJA EUROPA and began to inspect them. The first two were empty. At this stage a red emergency flare was fired in front of the helicopter. People on board a raft were flashing lights and waving. Because of the heavy sea, it was difficult to lower a rescue man to the raft, but the helicopter succeeded in rescuing one person from the raft.
When the helicopter started to lift the two remaining survivors, one of the strands of the wire broke, and then the winch engine malfunctioned. Since there were no mountings on the helicopter for an emergency winch, winching the survivors up to the helicopter was impossible and they had to be left in the raft. The rescue man had to be carried at the end of a 30 - 40 metre wire to the deck of the SILJA EUROPA. Y 65 alerted Berga for a new winch and took the survivor to hospital in Stockholm, from where one nurse was taken on board to assist in the rescue work. After this, Y 65 proceeded to Berga to change the winch and wire.
After taking on board two rescue men along with a reporter and a cameraman from a Swedish TV company, Y 65 took off again for the scene of the accident at 0812 hrs. During its second flight it inspected a large number of liferafts and hundreds of empty lifejackets. No more survivors were found. Several bodies were observed and Y 65 informed other helicopters. Three bodies were retrieved and flown to Hanko, where Y65 arrived at 1137 hrs. After refuelling, Y 65 returned to Berga, arriving at 1550 hrs.
Q 99 (Super Puma)
When Q 99, the stand-by helicopter at Ronneby received the alarm, it was already on another rescue mission just south of Öland, where it rescued two survivors from a fishing vessel. This mission finished at 0238 hrs. Ordered immediately to proceed to the scene of the accident, Q 99 landed at 0325 hrs at Visby for refuelling and maintenance of equipment and took off from Visby at 0355 hrs, reaching the scene of the accident at 0440 hrs.
During its first flight Q 99 launched two of its rafts so that they could drift into the area. Three survivors were winched up from a raft. Two more survivors were hoisted into the helicopter from another raft. Q 99 then had to break off as the rescue man was exhausted.
Q 99 proceeded to Utö where it landed at 0547 hrs. After refuelling from the last reserves of fuel on Utö, Q 99 returned at 0651 hrs to the scene of the accident and discovered a raft with four people. While winching up the first survivor a huge wave of about 12 m high almost overturned the raft. After winching all four persons up, the crew returned to Hanko due to the bad condition of the rescued people.
Q 99 carried out one more search flight between 0831 - 1125 hrs but could not find any more survivors or bodies. After refuelling at Hanko, Q 99 departed for base, arriving at 1610 hrs.
OH-HVD (Agusta Bell 412)
OH-HVD was on stand-by at its base in Helsinki. At 0218 hrs MRCC Turku asked MRCC Helsinki to call out OH-HVD. The crew were alerted at 0225 hrs in their homes. They arrived at 0255 hrs at the base and reported to MRCC Helsinki, which responded that MRCC Turku was in charge of the rescue operation and that they would be given their assignment as soon as MRCC Turku and MRCC Helsinki had clarified the situation. At 0320 hrs MRCC Helsinki reported that the ESTONIA had sunk and ordered OH-HVD to take off. The helicopter arrived at the scene of the accident at 0532 hrs.
When OH-HVD reported to the OSC on arriving at the scene of the accident it was assigned the task of retrieving survivors from the rafts and from the sea, where 20 - 30 liferafts, 2 - 3 lifeboats and many lifejackets could be seen in the water.
OH-HVD began to inspect the liferafts. Four survivors found on board the third raft were flown to the SILJA EUROPA. After this OH-HVD continued to inspect rafts, and soon a badly injured person was found on one of them. He was also taken to the SILJA EUROPA. The other persons on the raft were dead.
OH-HVD continued inspecting rafts for twenty minutes. The FINNMERCHANT had observed survivors on a raft near by, and OH-HVD was summoned. Two survivors in good condition were found on the raft, and they were flown to Hanko, where the helicopter refuelled.
OH-HVD returned to the scene of the accident at 0800 hrs and found five bodies in lifejackets in the water.
During the day OH-HVD continued search operations - only broken off for refuelling - until 1945 hrs. The following day it continued its flights until dusk and recovered nine bodies from the sea.
Q 91 (Super Puma)
Q 91 took off from Ronneby at 0345 hrs and reached the scene of the accident at 0550 hrs.
At the beginning of the operation Q 91 launched two liferafts into the sea. It began to search an area 7 - 8 km to the west of the search areas of the other units. Several rafts with survivors were found at the beginning of the search. The helicopter winched up five survivors from one raft. From the next raft, one survivor was winched up. The attempt to winch up a second person failed. He was in a state of panic and almost drowned the rescue man. The winching had to be halted. Q 91 took the survivors to Utö, and on hearing that there was no more fuel available there, proceeded to Mariehamn.
During the flight the helicopter's equipment gave two chip warnings (a warning of metal chips in the transmission system). Q 91 landed safely in Mariehamn but had to leave the operation because of the failure.
Y 64 (Boeing Kawasaki)
Y 64 took off from Berga at 0445 hrs, picked up a physician and a nurse from Huddinge Hospital and arrived at the scene of the accident at 0552 hrs.
The crew noticed that many rafts were searched more than once because there were no markings showing that a raft already had been examined. Therefore the crew proposed by radio that the rescue men should cut up the canopies of searched rafts.
Y 64 began to rescue three people, one in a raft, one lying in the water tied to the raft and one lifeless entangled in the raft's sea anchor. The helicopter winched down its rescue man to the person in the water. Although the winch wire failed, the rescue man managed to raise him. The next to be lifted up was the man in the raft. He was not wearing a lifejacket. He fell into the water just before gaining the helicopter. The rescue man jumped after him and succeeded in grasping him. The winch now failed totally and another helicopter, Y 74, was called upon to rescue them. However, before Y 74 arrived, the person died.
Y 64 brought the survivor to Utö. The medical personnel on board were left to assist the Finnish nursing staff. As requested by the staff, Y 64 transported 20 survivors from Utö to Turku University Central Hospital. After this Y 64 got permission from the OSC to return to Berga to repair the broken winch, and landed there at 1530 hrs.
Y 74 (Boeing Kawasaki)
Y 74 took off from Berga at 0546 hrs. Carrying a physician and a nurse from Huddinge Hospital, Y 74 reached the scene of the accident at 0642 hrs. Dawn had already broken. At the beginning of the operation, Y 74 found a raft containing a body with the head under water. At the same time the helicopter received a radio message that Y 64 had had to leave its rescue man in the sea. Y 74 went to assist Y 64.
Y 74 had difficulties in locating Y 64 since the OSC lacked exact information on the position of each helicopter. The Y 64 rescue man was holding onto a body, which was winched up to Y 74 with the assistance of Y 74's own rescue man. When the body had been recovered, the Y 74's rescue man fell about one metre, receiving a heavy blow from the harness to the lower part of his body. Nonetheless, he requested that he be lowered to bring up one more body. This body, however, had become badly tangled with the ropes on the raft and could not be winched up.
At this stage the pilot decided to interrupt the recovery of the body, since there might still be survivors in the sea and on rafts. Finally a spare harness was lowered to the Y 64's rescue man and used to winch him up to the helicopter. The injury to the Y 74 rescue man proved so serious that he was unable to do more. The work was continued by Y 64's rescue man.
At 0715 hrs Y 74 found a raft with three survivors, who were winched up into the helicopter. At one point the rescue man had to be brought up because his flippers had been torn off by the waves.
At 0740 hrs Y 69 reported that it, too, had had to leave its rescue man in the water because of a malfunction of the winch. In addition, this rescue man was suffering from concussion, since he had hit his head on a lifeboat that was upside-down in the water.
Y 74 went to Y 69's assistance. A hook and harness were dropped to the rescue man, and he was able to use them to get up to the helicopter.
Three survivors were hanging on to the keel of an upside-down lifeboat. Y 64's rescue man was lowered, and all three survivors were winched up. In connection with the rescue of the last of the three, a strong wave threw the rescue man against the lifeboat, injuring him. Since Y 74 now had three injured rescue men, it had to interrupt its rescue operations. In addition, fuel was running low. The six survivors, the injured rescue men and the body were taken to Huddinge Hospital, where the helicopter arrived at 0930 hrs. Y 74 returned to Berga at 0940 hrs to change crew.
Y 74 took off again from Berga at 1025 hrs with a new mechanic and two new rescue men. A fresh physician and nurse were taken on board from Huddinge Hospital. On reaching the scene of the accident, the helicopter recovered four of the five bodies on a liferaft. The fifth, which was not wearing a lifejacket, was washed overboard and disappeared in the waves.
Y 74 was then assigned a search area along the southern edge of the scene of the accident, but did not observe anything related to the accident. Y 74 proceeded to Hanko for refuelling. While in Hanko the helicopter was informed by ARCC Arlanda that it did not need to continue the search. The helicopter returned to Berga, landing at Utö on the way to leave the bodies. It landed at Berga at 1657 hrs.
Y 69 (Boeing Kawasaki)
Y 69 took off from Ronneby at 0430 hrs. On reaching the scene of the accident at 0645 hrs, Y 69 reported to the OSC and was ordered to wait. At the same time, it observed a raft which, however, proved to be empty. Immediately after this an upside-down lifeboat came into view, with three persons hanging on to its keel. When the rescue man was lowered into the water, a strong wave washed him against the boat, injuring him in the head. When the helicopter tried to winch him up, the winch malfunctioned. Y 69 had to ask Y 74 for assistance. Y 74 was able to bring up the rescue man and the three survivors.
Since the OSC could not assign the winchless helicopter additional tasks, Y 69 left for Mariehamn.
For the remaining period Y 69 served as a reconnaissance and transport helicopter from Turku. It ended its mission in the afternoon and landed at Berga at 1530 hrs.
On the following day Y 69 carried out search operations at the scene of the accident with a crew transferred from Y 72. Six bodies were recovered.
Y 68 (Boeing Kawasaki)
The stand-by helicopter Y 68 took off from Säve at 0345 hrs, arriving at Berga for refuelling at 0515 hrs and reaching the scene of the accident at 0645 hrs.
Immediately on arrival Y 68 found an upside-down liferaft carrying six survivors and five bodies. The six were winched up. The winching was very difficult, since the raft bobbed up and down in the waves, and the wire was in danger of being jerked. The survivors were suffering badly from hypothermia, and since no rafts or persons swimming in the sea could be seen near by, the pilot decided to fly the survivors as quickly as possible to receive medical care.
Y 68 was aware that Q 91 (see above), which left the area at the same time, was experiencing technical difficulties and was en route to Mariehamn. To ensure that Q 91 made it safely, Y 68 decided to proceed to Mariehamn also. On the way, Y 68 asked to be met by six ambulances to take care of the survivors.
After refuelling, Y 68 returned to the scene of the accident to perform a second search flight. During this flight it only found one body, which was floating in a lifejacket. At the end of the flight, the body was flown to Nauvo.
After refuelling at Nauvo, Y 68 took off on a third rescue flight. It retrieved two bodies from the sea and took them to Turku. After refuelling, Y 68 returned to Berga where it landed at 1640 hrs.
On the following day, Y 68 flew with a new crew from Berga to Turku. It was assigned, together with a Finnish helicopter, to fly media representatives to the scene of the accident between 1200 hrs and 1900 hrs. During the flights Y 68 was requested to patrol the sea, but no survivors or bodies were found.
O 95 (Super Puma)
O 95 took off from Söderhamn at 0410 hrs for Berga where it landed at 0510 hrs for briefing and refuelling. At 0600 hrs O 95 took off and on arriving at the scene of the accident at 0645 hrs, O 95 immediately observed many liferafts and lifejackets in the water. By 0720 hrs the helicopter had brought up six survivors from two different rafts. After this O 95 flew to Utö to drop off the survivors. From Utö, it proceeded to Turku for refuelling.
On its second rescue flight, from 0925 hrs to 1210 hrs, O 95 was assigned a search area along the eastern area of the scene of the accident. The helicopter inspected several liferafts, but no more survivors were found. Three bodies were winched up to the helicopter and taken to Hanko.
On its third flight no more bodies were found. O 95 returned for its base in Söderhamn at 1530 hrs by way of Hanko and Berga.
OH-HVF (Super Puma)
OH-HVF was at its base in Turku, but it had been stripped down for its regular maintenance. When the chief of the Turku patrol flight arrived at MRCC Turku at 0345 hrs, he had the helicopter prepared for operations. At 0540 hrs the inspector certified that the helicopter was airworthy for the duration of the rescue operations.
OH-HVF took off at 0615 hrs and arrived at the scene of the accident at 0645 hrs. Unable to make radio contact with the air operations co-ordinator, it called OH-HVG, which was in the area, and was instructed to winch up survivors from the liferafts. OH-HVF inspected several rafts, but all were empty. The best approach proved to be to lower a rescue man to the sea down-wind, from where he could swim to the rafts. A body was on one raft. When an attempt was made to place the body in the hoist, a large wave capsized the raft and she disappeared.
At this stage OH-HVF departed for Nauvo to refuel. It arrived at Nauvo at 0935 hrs. It took off again for the scene at 1025 hrs, arriving there at 1045 hrs.
OH-HVG notified OH-HVF of a raft carrying several bodies. OH-HVF found an overturned raft with 12 bodies. Nearby two rafts had become entangled in each others' ropes, and two bodies were attached to the ropes. OH-HVF brought up eight bodies from the over-turned raft. The winch wire was then found to be frayed. OH-HVF notified the OSC of this and flew to Utö, where it landed at 1200 hrs. No more fuel was available at Utö. In addition, the wire was so badly frayed that it had to be replaced. OH-HVF took off from Utö at 1245 hrs, carrying a new air operations co-ordinator and the air traffic control officer to the SILJA EUROPA. On the way one more liferaft was checked by the rescue man, and several more visually. From the SILJA EUROPA, OH-HVF returned back to the base and landed in Turku at 1355 hrs.
A second crew took off from Turku to the scene of the accident at 1535 hrs, taking with them two police investigators to Utö. OH-HVF searched for survivors and bodies at the scene of the accident for 1.5 hours, but no more were found. The helicopter landed at Hanko at 1855 hrs. Later that evening, OH-HVF transported six persons who had participated in the rescue operations from the SILJA EUROPA to Turku.
On the next day OH-HVF carried out one further search flight, during which it brought up seven bodies. It served also in transport duties.
X 92 (Mi-8)
Together with the other Finnish Air Force Mi-8 helicopters X 92 was called out at 0315 hrs. It took off from Utti at 0438 hrs, refuelled at Turku, and arrived at the scene of the accident at 0650 hrs.
On arrival X 92 was assigned a search sector by the air operations co-ordinator, and asked to search the liferafts for survivors. The rescue man inspected several rafts, but all were empty. After this the crew was advised that the inspected rafts were to be marked with a buoy or by ripping open the canopy. During the first flight, no survivors were found, but a large number of bodies were observed.
At the end of its first flight X 92 picked up one survivor on a stretcher from the MARIELLA and took him to Hanko. The assignment to pick up another survivor from the ISABELLA had to be transferred to X 42, since it would have taken some time to get him up on deck, and X 92 was running low on fuel.
After landing in Hanko, X 92 returned to the scene of the accident and picked up eight bodies, which were taken to Utö. Following refuelling at Nauvo, a third search flight was carried out but no more survivors or bodies were found.
On the following day X 92 flew one flight to the scene of the accident to transport journalists.
On 30 September X 92 performed three search flights and picked up five bodies from the sea. Three of them lacked lifejackets. The helicopter returned to Utti at 1943 hrs.
X 42 (Mi-8)
X 42 took off from Utti at 0445 hrs, landed in Turku to refuel and took on board seven men from the special task group (EKA) of the Turku city fire department to serve as rescue men. They could not board the SILJA EUROPA because the vessel was rolling so badly that it would have been dangerous to land on the helicopter deck. They therefore stayed with the helicopter all day as first-aid personnel.
Some 50 rafts could be seen in the water. Flying low, X 42 examined them visually. A rescue man was lowered to check those with intact canopy. He searched ten rafts, but no survivors were found.
While X 42 was inspecting the rafts, OH-HVG reported that it had to interrupt a rescue from one raft, since it was low on fuel. X 42 winched three survivors from this raft. It then flew to the ISABELLA to pick up a survivor in a stretcher who, together with the other survivors, was flown to Turku.
During its second flight X 42 took on board three EKA men to serve as rescue men and to operate the winch. On a search in the area indicated by the OSC, X 42 brought up two bodies from lifeboats.
After taking three bodies from Hanko to Utö, X 42 returned to the scene of the accident and brought up four more from the sea. The bodies were taken to Utö, and X 42 returned to Turku at 1803 hrs.
On the following day X 42 carried out several search flights and picked up seven bodies from the sea. It returned to base at 2144 hrs.
X 62 (Mi-8)
X 62 took off from Utti, landed in Turku and arrived at the scene of the accident at 0720 hrs. It reported in to the SILJA EUROPA by radio. Since X 62 carried no rescue man, it was assigned only search operations. At 0735 hrs X 62 was ordered to transport physicians from Turku to Utö. On the way to Turku, it was also requested to transport firemen from Turku to Utö, and the CSS from Nauvo to the Silja Europa.
X 62 took off from Turku at 0841 hrs with five physicians, six firemen/rescue men and an air traffic control officer. The CSS was picked up in Nauvo. The physicians and the firemen were dropped off in Utö. The flight continued to the SILJA EUROPA where, however, it proved impossible to land, as the stern deck of the vessel was rising and falling about 10 metres at a time. Those who were supposed to have been landed on the vessel had to be winched down to the deck. Before the last person could be lowered, a dangerous situation arose when wind turbulence caused by the shape of the vessel almost caused X 62 to strike the helicopter deck. The last person could not be winched down until the vessel had been turned.
After this X 62 began to search the sea for survivors, and possible oil spill from the ESTONIA. It soon found a small slick. Some 20 to 30 bodies in lifejackets were floating flat in front of the bow of the SILJA EUROPA, but no survivors could be seen.
X 62 returned to Turku to refuel and back to the scene of the accident at 1244 hrs. Two firemen/rescue men from the Helsinki Fire Department were taken on board at Utö. At the scene of the accident, X 62 began to inspect rafts, and one over-turned lifeboat. One body was brought up from a raft.
During the rescue work, one of the two rescue men was injured when the hook of the winch tore through his clothes and gouged his thigh. The work was broken off, and the injured rescue man had to be flown to Hanko for medical treatment. X 62 arrived at Hanko at 1528 hrs.
X 62 performed one more search flight, from 1600 hrs to 1900 hrs, but no more survivors or bodies were found. On the following day X 62 carried out one sortie, but again no more survivors or bodies were found.
U 280 (Sea King) and U 277 (Sea King)
After refuelling in Visby U 280 and U 277 flew together and arrived at the scene of the accident at 0815 hrs.
The OSC assigned them a search area and they operated together. No survivors were found during the rescue flight, and at this stage no action was taken to raise bodies from the water. They flew to Hanko and from there at 1215 hrs, to Denmark.
OH-HVH (Agusta Bell 412)
An Agusta Bell 206 helicopter (OH-HRH) was on stand-by in Rovaniemi. In view of the mission, the crew decided to use the larger Agusta Bell 412 helicopter OH-HVH. A back-up crew was also taken on board the helicopter.
OH-HVH took off from Rovaniemi at 0510 hrs and arrived at the scene of the accident at 1015 hrs. The air operations co-ordinator first assigned it the inspection of liferafts, in addition to searching for possible survivors in the sea. OH-HVH was also informed about how to mark rafts that had been inspected. No rescue man was lowered during this flight, the rafts being inspected visually while the helicopter hovered over them. OH-HVH returned to Hanko at 1245 hrs.
At 1330 hrs, OH-HVH took off on a new mission, to look for oil spill which would indicate the location of the wreck. A streak of oil about 0.5 nautical miles long was found at the site. OH-HVH was soon requested to fly over to a Russian cargo vessel, where it was believed a person had fallen overboard. However, it soon became apparent that three bodies from the ESTONIA were in the water near the vessel. Since there were two other helicopters at the site, OH-HVH received permission to move further away. After recovering one body and inspecting two more liferafts, OH-HVH left to take the body to Utö. After this, it flew to Turku to change crews, landing there at 1600 hrs.
The second crew took off on its first flight at 1630 hrs. The air operations co-ordinator requested it to carry out search flights. Informed that a vessel had spotted three bodies in the sea, OH-HVH departed for the scene, where two bodies were brought up to the helicopter and taken to Utö. After this, OH-HVH took off for Nauvo for refuelling, landing there at 1920 hrs and taking off again at 1950 hrs. During the evening, OH-HVH further transported a first-aid team, and transferred one person injured in the accident from Hanko to a hospital in Turku. This last assignment lasted until 0055 hrs on the following morning.
The next two days were spent on searches and transport duties. On 30 September OH-HVH recovered one more body from the sea.
Y 61 (Boeing Kawasaki)
Y 61 took off from Berga at 1030 hrs and picked up two nurses from Huddinge Hospital. Arriving at the scene of the accident at 1140 hrs, Y 61 was assigned a search area north-east of the assumed location of the wreck. Nothing was found but empty lifejackets. Subsequently, Y 61 was ordered to search lifeboats and rafts. The canopies of the rafts were cut after search, and other crews were informed about the measures taken. No survivors or bodies were found.
Y 61 flew to Hanko in order to refuel and check the winch, which had been giving off a burning smell. After landing Y 61 was ordered to return to Berga. On the way it transported seven bodies to Turku. Y 61 landed at Berga at 1900 hrs.
Y 75 (Boeing Kawasaki)
Y 75 was assigned to transport a physician and a psychologist from Karolinska Sjukhuset, Stockholm, to the SILJA SYMPHONY. It departed from Berga at 1300 hrs. There were also two journalists on board during the flight. On the way, it was notified by a Russian merchant vessel that three bodies were in the sea near the vessel. Arriving at 1410 hrs, Y 75 observed the bodies. Two were completely submerged but one had its head above the surface. The latter was picked up. After this the physician and psychologist were taken to the SILJA SYMPHONY, to which they were lowered at 1500 hrs.
Y 75 returned to the Russian vessel and picked up one more body. The third had been picked up by Y 68 while Y 75 was en route to the SILJA SYMPHONY. Y 75 took the bodies to Utö and returned to Berga at 1705 hrs.
X 82 (Mi-8)
During the morning the personnel at the Utti helicopter base manned more helicopters for the rescue operation. X 82 took off at 1226 hrs. Three firemen/rescue men from the Helsinki Fire Department were taken on board at Utö. X 82 arrived at the scene of the accident at 1525 hrs and was requested to examine the liferafts that had drifted furthest away. No survivors or bodies were found during this flight.
O 98 (Super Puma)
O 98 took off from Söderhamn at 1155 hrs. On its way to the scene of the accident O 98 picked up one pilot and two rescue men from Uppsala. After refuelling in Hanko, O 98 took off for the scene of the accident at 1505 hrs, and returned to Hanko at 1840 hrs. No survivors or bodies were found during this flight.
Staying overnight at Turku, O 98 flew to Hanko on the following day and carried out one more search flight, between 0925 hrs and 1315 hrs, without finding survivors or bodies. O 98 departed for Söderhamn at 1400 hrs.
Y 72 (Boeing Kawasaki)
Y 72 carried out one search flight, taking off from Berga at 1500 hrs and returning there at 1940 hrs. The crew and two journalists were on board during the flight. Only empty liferafts and lifejackets were found in the search sector indicated by the OSC.
On the following day, the crew transferred to Y 69. Y 72 was manned by a new crew, and took off from Berga at 0919 hrs with a medical team from Huddinge Hospital. Y 72 flew to Turku, where the crew and team were briefed on the situation. Y 72 took off for the scene of the accident at 1307 hrs.
Y 72 began to search its assigned sector at 1350 hrs. After picking up three bodies, the crew observed that bodies and flotsam were drifting in quite a narrow area. Two more bodies were picked up from the sea. At 1640 hrs the helicopter departed for Utö to leave the bodies. The crew arranged with the coast guard vessel Tursas, which was conducting the operations, that Y 69 would take over Y 72's search sector. Y 72 departed at 1950 hrs.
Y 76 (Boeing Kawasaki)
Y 76 flew from its base in Säve, via Berga from where it took off at 1600 hrs for the scene of the accident. Two journalists were on board. Y 76 was assigned a search area south of the main accident area. It returned to Berga at 2025 hrs. During the flight, no survivors or bodies were found.
ES-XAC (Mi-2) and ES-XAB (Mi-2)
On the day of the accident, ES-XAC, a Mi-2 helicopter belonging to the Estonian AeroCo company, conducted a search flight along the northern coast of Estonia. The flights were continued during the following days with another helicopter, ES-XAB, belonging to the same company.
RA 22511 (Mi-8)
A Russian civilian Mi-8 helicopter, RA 22511, arrived in the accident area in the late afternoon of the day of the accident. Later in the evening it landed at Turku.
RA 22511 was equipped for maritime SAR but the crew did not have proper rescue clothing. On the following afternoon, RA 22511 was assigned a search mission, after which it returned to the base.
7.5.6 Action taken by fixed-wing aircraft
OH-PRB (Piper Navajo)
The crew of the Finnish Border Guard Navajo OH-PRB at Turku was alerted at 0445 hrs. The aircraft took off at 0547 hrs and arrived at the scene of the accident at 0613 hrs. It flew above the helicopters, searched for liferafts and informed helicopters and vessels of the location of these. Since radio communications did not function properly, OH-PRB served as a relay station between the vessels, MRCC and the helicopters. It returned to Turku at 1025 hrs. After changing crews it took off for the scene of the accident at 1115 hrs with the same tasks as before. It returned to Turku at 1535 hrs. A third flight was carried out between 1620 hrs and 2045 hrs.
On the following morning OH-PRB took off at 0610 hrs. On arrival the crew requested a situation report so that the helicopters could be briefed on the basis of this information. The aircraft carried out three search flights during the day.
OH-PRB's search flights were continued until 4 October.
On the night of the accident, the Swedish Coast Guard Casa 212 aircraft SE-KVG was in Turku, where, during the preceding night, it had participated in a joint Finnish - Swedish oil spill exercise in the vicinity. When informed of the accident, the Swedish Coast Guard's operations centre alerted its units in Finland.
On being alerted the crew of SE-KVG departed immediately for Turku from their hotel in Parainen.
SE-KVG was ready to depart at 0615 hrs. It was assigned tasks as a search aircraft and as a radio relay station. On the day of the accident it flew two search flights in the area of the accident, from 0630 hrs to 0930 hrs, and from 1125 hrs to 1445 hrs. Following instructions from the OSC, it searched for liferafts and lifeboats as well as survivors in lifejackets, reporting to the OSC.
Another Swedish Coast Guard Casa 212 aircraft, SE-IVF, was flown from its base in Sturup to Gotland in case it was needed. However, the aircraft was not assigned any task.
ES-PLW (L-410) and OH-AYH (AA-5)
On the day of the accident and for several days thereafter, ES-PLW, an L-410 aircraft belonging to the Estonian Government, conducted search flights along the Estonian coast. Beginning on 29 September OH-AYH, an AA-5 aircraft leased by AeroCo, also took part in these flights.
7.5.7 Transport of rescued persons to safety
The first helicopter to reach the scene of the accident was instructed to transfer the survivors it had rescued to the nearest passenger ferries, and at 0222 hrs MRCC Turku ordered the vessels to ready their helicopter pads. However, only two helicopters, the Super Puma OH-HVG and the Agusta Bell 412 OH-HVD, were capable of landing on the pads.
The Utö coastal fortress island, the closest island to the scene of the accident, became the most important assembly point for the rescued survivors. The helicopters brought a total of 24 survivors to the fortress for transfer to hospital care.
A summary of the distribution of the survivors in various hospitals is shown in Table 7.8.
Table 7.8 Survivors taken to hospitals.
*One died in Huddinge Hospital.
|Helsinki University Central Hospital (HYKS)||20
|Surgical Hospital, Helsinki||1
|Maria Hospital, Helsinki||16
|Western Uusimaa Regional Hospital, Tammisaari||4
|Hanko Health Care Centre||8
|Parainen Health Care Centre||4
|Turku University Central Hospital (TYKS)||38
|Mariehamn Central Hospital||8
|Huddinge Hospital, Stockholm||8
|Södersjukhuset (SÖS), Stockholm||31
|Total number rescued||138*