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16 missing after Russian chopper with regional officials on board crashes: police

MOSCOW -- Sixteen people were missing after a helicopter believed to be carrying top regional officials and businessmen crashed into a lake in northwestern Russia, police and the emergencies ministry said Sunday.

According to preliminary information, the Mi-8 helicopter was carrying 18 people, including five crew, when it crashed over Munozero lake in a remote area in the northwestern Murmansk region on Saturday, regional officials said.

Two people were injured and hospitalized and the rest are considered missing, officials said.

A regional police spokeswoman told AFP earlier that the helicopter was carrying up to 19 people.

“The helicopter is in the water,” emergencies ministry spokeswoman Tatyana Zakharova told AFP, adding that divers were deployed to help with the rescue operation.

The helicopter belongs to Apatit, maker of components for fertilizers, and company director Alexei Grigoryev and his deputy Konstantin Nikitin are believed to have been on board, Apatit spokeswoman Olga Kryuchek told AFP.

Officials refused to declare those missing dead.

“Until the bodies are found, they are considered alive,” said Apatit's Kryuchek.

Top regional officials including deputy Murmansk governor are believed to also have been on board the chopper.

Denis Pushin, spokesman for the Murmansk regional administration, refused to identify the passengers of the helicopter.

“I am not ready to bury anyone,” he told AFP. “The passenger manifest is being verified.”

He said the two survivors had been found floating on the water fastened to their chairs.

Investigators named a possible aircraft malfunction and bad weather as likely causes of the crash.

Officials could not begin a rescue operation when they received the first reports of the crash on Saturday due to poor weather conditions. Some 100 people were working on the scene of the crash on Sunday, the emergencies ministry said.

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