A helicopter carrying four tourists had spiraled before plunging into the sea near Ha Long Bay and exploding, said fishermen who rushed to the rescue.
Vu Van Dan, 54, was one of the first people to rush to the crash site at waters between Quang Ninh Province and Hai Phong on Wednesday evening.
Dan said he and several fishermen saw the helicopter circling many times and making “a croaking sound like some part of it was slipping off.”
“The helicopter than flew closely past a fishing boat, plunged into the water and exploded. Debris was thrown all over the pace. Someone rose out of the water before drowning,” he said.
His son Vu Van Truong, who was fishing 50 meters away, also said the helicopter exploded after plunging halfway into the water, and then fire went up.
The father and son called other fishermen to rescue the victims. They arrived after five minutes on speedboats and found a man floating in a life vest.
“We struggled for a while before managing to pull him out of the water. We checked if he’s still breathing, but there was nothing. His face had been deformed,” Dan said.
The fishermen then turn on their fishing lights and found a woman, who was dead with severe head injuries. They continued the search until midnight, joining forces from the army, police and coast guard.
The Bell 505 helicopter belonging to the state-owned Northern Vietnam Helicopter Company took the tourists on an aerial tour of Ha Long Bay, taking off from Tuan Chau Island at 4:56 p.m.
Ground control lost its radio signal at 5:15 p.m.
Four bodies of five victims have been found by Thursday night, including that of the pilot, Colonel Chu Quang Minh, 59.
The tourists have been identified as Ho Ta Luc, 59, his wife Nguyen Thi Hoi, 56, his sister Ho Thi Oanh, 51, and a family’s friend Pham Thi Be, 60.
The trip was to celebrate Luc’s birthday, the family said.
Colonel General Nguyen Tan Cuong, chief advisor of Vietnam People’s Army and Deputy Minister of National Defense, said reports filed so far showed that the helicopter had encountered some technical issue.
Cuong said the pilot had tried to turn back to a safe area, “but things happened too fast and the regrettable incident had occured.”
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