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Five feared dead in helicopter tragedy off New South Wales coast

SYDNEY, Australia: Four men and a woman are feared dead after the wreckage of a helicopter was discovered sinking off the New South Wales coast on Saturday.

Privately owned Bell UH1 helicopter that faded off the radar overnight was found destroyed and submerged in the morning.

It had went missing in rough winds and storms around 6:30pm off Anna Bay near Newcastle on Friday.

A major air and sea search operation spotted the tail rotor of the aircraft before 9:00am and the main airframe was sighted half an hour later, Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said.

An observer on-board one of the rescue helicopters saw the wreckage sink shortly before the boats arrived.

“The location of the airframe is consistent with the drift model of where the aircraft was believed to have entered the water,” the AMSA statement read.

“There have been no sightings of the occupants of the helicopter,” it added.

The AMSA suspended its search based on “expert medical advice and the discovery of the damaged airframe”, but police told media its divers are still trying to recover the sunken wreckage.

“AMSA would like to thank all the agencies involved in this rescue in extremely challenging conditions and extends our deep sympathies to the family and friends of those aboard the helicopter,” the authority said.

They also revealed that the missing aircraft was rapidly losing altitude before it was reported “fading off the radar”, according to air traffic control.

The authority told of multiple oil and debris sightings on Saturday morning but rough seas have made it inaccessible.

A severe weather warning had been issued in the area last night with peak winds predicted to be in excess of 125km/h.

Three rescue helicopters, the AMSA jet and numerous boats formed the major operation that tried to locate the missing helicopter on Saturday.

The joint operation with police searched a 150 nautical mile area of sea 1km south east of Anna Bay.

A police spokesperson said recovery efforts will be hindered by the continuation of strong winds and rough sea.

He said, “Our forecast for the next 24-48 hours is not conducive to locating it exactly but we’ll try our best.”

It was reported the private chopper had travelled to Coffs Harbour from Brisbane to refuel before taking off towards Bankstown Airport when it disappeared.