Operation to find wreckage and bring it up promises to be complex task

THESSALONIKI – A section measuring 80×120 centimeters, probably belonging to the fuselage of the ill-fated Chinook helicopter which was found on Monday morning floating some 15 miles (9 kilometers) north of the Sporades island group, highlighted to authorities just how difficult their task of finding the missing passengers and all the remains of the craft will be. The discovery of the piece, in an area so distant from the location where the army transport helicopter is believed to have gone down, has proven how strong the currents are off the coast of Sithonia and forced leaders of the search party to widen their search. Strong currents and a depth of up to 1,000 meters – where the remains of the fallen helicopter are believed to lie – are considered to pose the biggest challenge to the underwater search team, which was due to begin combing the area anew yesterday using specialized oceanographic vessels from the Hellenic Center for Marine Research (ELKETHE). The search-and-recovery operation is seen as being an extremely difficult one. The area where the remains of the helicopter are believed to lie is crossed by the Anatolia fault line and the depth, as well as the morphology of the seabed, have been characterized by experts as «forbidding.» Experts also say that if the remains of the helicopter are not salvaged, it will be extremely difficult – if not impossible – to ascertain the exact causes of the crash. Deep waters According to sources, search efforts by the coast guard to locate the Chinook will commence at the same spot where on Saturday afternoon six bodies were found along with most of the little wreckage retrieved to date. This area lies 5 nautical miles southeast of the Drepano peninsula, an area which has, according to Toroni Mayor C. Fylaktos and local fishermen from Porto Koufo, «the deepest waters off Halkidiki.» Since Saturday, search parties from the Greek navy, the coast guard and private parties participating in the operation have continued discovering personal items belonging to the victims of the crash, as well as sections of wreckage. These were brought together and stored initially at the Toroni Elementary School, and, after being numbered and tagged by army officials, they were transported to Nea Anchialos in Magnesia to be examined by forensics experts looking for the cause of the tragedy. Search efforts have been ongoing and have already succeeded in covering the area around the southeastern coast of Sithonia to the north of the Sporades, though since Monday – the third day after the crash – the amount of wreckage being found has decreased. Hopes of finding the eight passengers of the Chinook who are still missing are now concentrated on the deep-sea search party. The deep-sea research vessel being used, Thetis, equipped with a deep-sea submarine and seabed-mapping equipment, was brought to the area off Halkidiki’s Porto Koufo from Crete by the Aegaio, an oceanographic vessel, in order to locate the remains of the Chinook – it is believed that the bodies of the eight missing passengers are trapped inside. However, since there are no accounts of the exact spot where the helicopter went down or any clear indication of where it lost contact either, it was not known, at least yesterday afternoon, where exactly Thetis would begin its search. The basic precondition for the search to go ahead is that the strength of the winds in the area do not exceed 5 Beaufort, while it is also estimated that it will take four to five days for an area of 2×5 nautical square miles to be fully covered. The search operation is headed by ELKETHE and the General Secretariat of Research and Technology of the Development Ministry. Other vessels being used in the operation include two submersible robots that can reach a depth of up to 2,500 meters.

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