5 killed after rescue helicopter searching for S Korea ferry victims crashes

SEOUL - A helicopter that had been searching for victims of South Korea's ferry disaster crashed Thursday in a residential district of Gwangju city, killing all five people on board, officials said.

There were no reported fatalities on the ground, but one high school student was injured by flying debris when the helicopter crashed shortly before 11:00 am (0200 GMT), narrowly missing nearby apartment blocks in the southern city.

Dramatic footage taken by a vehicle camcorder and broadcast on YTN television, showed the free-falling helicopter plunging nose-first into the ground, and exploding in a fireball on impact.

"Five people were on board and all are presumed dead," local fire chief Moon Ki-Shik told reporters at the scene, adding that the cause of the crash was not immediately clear.

The crew were returning from a mission to help in the search for missing victims of the April 16 Sewol ferry tragedy.

The 6,825-tonne Sewol sank in waters off the southwest coast on April 16 with 476 people on board - most of them schoolchildren.

Three months later, divers and rescue teams are still searching for the bodies of a dozen victims that remain unaccounted for.

The aircraft was identified as a Eurocopter Dauphin 2, a twin-engine chopper produced by Airbus Helicopters.