According to Norwegian rescue officials, a Russian military helicopter that disappeared with eight people on board has been found on the seabed near the Arctic Archipelago of Svalbard.

In an official statement, the Joint Rescue Coordination Center for northern Norway said that the missing Mi-8 helicopter went down Thursday near Svalbard settlement of Barentsburg.  Currently, they do not believe any of the aircraft’s passengers survived the crash, and the majority of the helicopter has been located approximately one mile off the coast of Cape Heer, nearly 700 feet beneath the ocean’s surface.

The wreckage was discovered using the assistance of a Norwegian drone submarine, and the entire operation has no shifted toward looking for the eight Russians on board, five crew members and three scientists, that have yet to be accounted for.  Yevgeny Saidov, head of the Russian Ministry of Emergency Situations special group at the site, told the press on Sunday that Russian remote controlled submersible vehicles will soon be on scene to assist in the effort.

Although the helicopter was the same model used by the Russian military, the aircraft that crashed was reportedly owned by the Russian coal company Arktikugol, and operated by a third-party charter company, Konvers Avia.  The helicopter was on its way to a small coal mining town called Barentsburg when it went down.

Although Norway retains sovereignty over the Archipelago of Svalbard, which lies approximately 500 miles off the coasts of its mainland, a 1920 treaty grants rights to a number of nations, including Russia, to exploit the natural resources of the region.

In recent years, Russia has been making a concerted effort to expand its claims over arctic territory and resources, as well as its presence in the region.  Russian president Vladimir Putin is on record indicating that the increased navigation possibilities permitted by climate change melting polar ice has opened new revenue avenues for his nation’s struggling economy.

In conjunction with Russia’s expanding oil and coal enterprises in the arctic has been a serious build up of military assets in the region, intended to bolster Russia’s claims over territory.  This build up has been of increasing concern to the United States, who see a Russian presence in the Arctic, north of the United States, as a potential threat.

Recently, Russia’s military formally stood up a new Arctic Command, comprised of four new Arctic brigade combat teams, 14 new operational airfields, 16 deepwater ports, and 40 icebreakers, with 11 more currently under construction.  By comparison, the United States’ maintains only a single Arctic ice breaker.


Image courtesy of the Associated Press