Mumbai: A Pawan Hans helicopter with seven people on-board, including five ONGC officers and two pilots, crashed off the Mumbai coast minutes after it took off for the state-owned company's oil installation in the Arabian sea.
So far, five bodies have been recovered, the Coast Guard and the Navy said in their statements.
Search operation is on for other missing persons.
The Pawan Hans helicopter with five Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) officers, including three of the level of Deputy General Managers, went missing around 10.40 hours today.
ONGC, Coast Guard and Navy pressed helicopters and speed boats as soon as the information of the chopper going missing was received at the Juhu helibase.
ONGC has key oil and gas fields off the Mumbai coast and Pawan Hans helicopters routinely ferry company employees and officers to the oil installations that are situated as far as 160 kilometres from the coastline.
The field in the offshore include Mumbai High, the nation's largest oil field and Bassein fields, the largest gas field.
The helicopter crash is not the first accident in ONGC's history. In August 2003, an Mi-172 helicopter crashed off the Mumbai coast killing 27 people and pilot on-board.
"ONGC vessels and choppers along with the Coast Guard and Indian Navy are combing the areas where the chopper has apparently crashed," the ONGC statement read.
"Identification of the bodies is in progress," it read.
The chopper Dauphin N3 went missing after taking off from the Juhu aerodrome.
The chopper, bearing registration number VT-PWA, was scheduled to land at the designated oil rig at Mumbai High at 11 am.
In a statement, the Coast Guard said, "Search teams from ICGS Agrim were able to locate and recover five bodies from water. The floating debris was also recovered by the ship.
The search operation for the remaining crew is continuing in coordination with other ships and aircraft from ONGC and the Indian Navy. The recovered bodies along with debris have been handed over to ONGC vessel at the crash site for further formalities, it said.
"At about 1120 Hrs on 13 January, Headquarters, Coast Guard Region (W) received information from ONGC about a helicopter with seven persons (two pilots and five passengers) missing in position about 22 Nm North West from Uttan Light (16-17 Nm from land). The location falls in the approach/return leg of route taken by ONGC helicopters while proceeding to oil rigs in Mumbai high area," it added.
"A Dornier aircraft was immediately launched from Coast Guard Air Station Daman and reached the area for search. Certain debris was reported by the aircraft. Further, Indian Coast Guard Ship (ICGS) Agrim, on patrolling off Mumbai was diverted to the crash site and reached the datum at about 1230 hrs.
"The ship also reported widespread debris in the area and began search for the missing passengers and crew from aircraft," it added.
Four more Coast Guard ships based at Mumbai (ICGS Samudra Prahari, ICGS Achook, ICGS C-154 and ICGS C-434) apart from ICGS Agrim were pressed into service and reached the datum to widen the search parameter.
Besides, another two Dornier aircraft were deployed from Coast Guard Air Station Daman to augment the search effort, it added.
A release from the Navy said, "The naval ships have recovered pieces of debris of the ill-fated helicopter and continue the search for two missing crew members. Five bodies have been recovered so far."
The Navy said the two Fast Interceptor Crafts, INS Tarasa and the frigate INS Teg of the Indian Navy joined the rescue effort with diving teams and a Chetak helicopter operating on board INS Teg joined the operation for survivors of the Pawan Hans helicopter.
"In addition, Seaking helicopters from INS Shikra and a Dornier recce aircraft from Porbandar have been operating through the day. A P8-I long-range maritime reconnaissance aircraft from INS Rajali near the East Coast has also arrived in the area to assist the search. INS Makar, a naval survey ship with the latest side-scan sonar and underwater cameras has also sailed from Karwar to augment the SAR effort," an naval release said.
An ONGC official said Oil Minister Dharmendra Pradhan visited the bereaved families in the city this evening.
Of the five senior officials that the ONGC lost in the accident, two were living in Bandra Colony, one in Kalina, one in Vasai and one in Delhi, he said.
However, the ONGC refused to name the officials saying that all the bodies are yet to be identified by their families and two more bodies are yet to be recovered.
The bodies recovered so far have been sent to Cooper Hospital for post-mortem, the official added.
A senior Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) official said the aircraft accident investigation body AAIB will probe the Pawan Hans chopper crash.
"Since it is a clear accident, this chopper crash will be probed by the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB)," the official said.
He said the DGCA will extend all the necessary help to the AAIB in conducting the probe.
AAIB is the apex body which probes serious incidents and accidents, involving aircraft registered in India and comes under the civil aviation ministry.
Pawan Hans Ltd said in a statement that the French-made Dauphin SA 365N3 helicopter met with an with an accident and the chopper crash is being probed by the aviation regulation DGCA.
"There were five passengers and two crew members on board. The search and rescue operations are in progress," it said.
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.
"So far resulted in 03 body recovery. Search & rescue operations are underway. Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau will launch thorough inquiry," he tweeted.