LERWICK, Scotland — A Chinook helicopter carrying 44 oil workers and three crewmen from an offshore rig crashed in the frigid North Sea today, and officials said 45 of the 47 people aboard were lost.
There were two confirmed survivors, 19 confirmed dead and 26 missing.
The Coast Guard called off its air search for survivors at nightfall, but five boats with lights and infrared scanners to detect body heat were sent to the area where the copter plunged into the cold North Sea waters and 10-foot waves.
But six hours after the midday crash, RAF spokesman Norman McLeod said: "I would say at this stage it is highly unlikely any other survivors will be found. They have been in that cold water for hours now."
The twin-rotor aircraft, chartered by the exploration arm of Shell U.K. Ltd., crashed just two miles off the Shetland Islands as it approached the Sumburgh Head airport in winds of 15 to 21 m.p.h., rescue officials said.
"We can confirm at present 26 passengers and crew still missing," Shell U.K. Ltd. spokesman Harry MacQuaker said in Aberdeen, Scotland. "Nineteen bodies have been recovered from the sea, and two survivors have been taken to the hospital in Lerwick."
A spokesman for Gilbert Bain Hospital said the two survivors--one crewman and one passenger--were suffering from hypothermia from exposure in the chilly seas and had other injuries.
Officials said they did not know what caused the crash or whether the passengers were wearing clothing and equipment that would enable them to survive the 41-degree waters.
Shell U.K. said the helicopter, owned by British International Helicopters, was bringing oil workers back from the Brent Field, 135 miles northeast of the Shetlands in the North Sea.
Helicopters are the standard means of transport for the offshore oil workers. There was a similar accident in the region in 1984, but all 47 people were rescued.