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Helicopter crashes into oil platform off Dubai, killing 7

A helicopter carrying foreign contractors crashed into an oil platform off the coast of Dubai, killing all seven people on board and halting production in one of the emirate's four offshore oil fields, officials said Thursday.

The Bell 212 helicopter crashed at 8:23 p.m. Wednesday, according to the Emirates' Civil Aviation Authority. It was carrying workers to a recently installed jackup rig owned by A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S but operated by oilfield service provider Petrofac Ltd. on behalf of Dubai Petroleum Co., the companies said.

A fire broke out shortly after the crash on the main deck of the rig, which is located in the Rashid field about 40 miles (70 kilometers) off shore. Petrofac and Dubai Petroleum said the blaze was quickly extinguished but that all operations in the Rashid field have been halted.

Olly Scott, a spokesman representing Petrofac, said it was unclear when the rig would be back in service.

The victims included a citizen each from the United States, United Kingdom, Pakistan, the Philippines and Venezuela, as well as two Indians, the Emirati aviation authorities said.

A Dubai Petroleum spokesman, who declined to be named because he wasn't yet authorized to give details of the crash to the media, said five of the victims were passengers and two were crew members.

The contractors were working for state-owned Dubai Petroleum at the time of the accident, the company's spokesman said. It was not immediately clear who their full-time employer was, although representatives from Petrofac and Maersk said their employees were not among the dead.

"We are still in the process of identifying the deceased and notifying the next of kin," Scott said on behalf of Petrofac. Consular officials were unable to provide information about the victims.

Dubai Petroleum and Petrofac said the helicopter was operated by Dubai-based Aerogulf Services, and that it struck the deck of the rig during takeoff Wednesday, broke apart and plunged into the Persian Gulf waters.

Aerogulf's fleet of nine helicopters transports staff and equipment to oil and gas platforms in the Persian Gulf. The Dubai-based company also flies 30-minute sightseeing tours of the Gulf city's artificial islands and luxury towers.

According to the company's Web site, Aerogulf is the only helicopter operator in the Gulf providing scheduled night service to offshore sites all through the year.

The rig, the Maersk Resilient, entered service in March. It is the first in a series of identical rigs set to come online in the coming months. It is under contract to Dubai Petroleum for three years.

Dubai Petroleum was established in 1963 and is owned by the emirate's government.

In June, a helicopter crashed off the coast of the Emirates capital, Abu Dhabi, and killed a brother of the federation's president and several others aboard.

The UAE is the world's third largest exporter of oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. However, the vast majority of the country's 2.9 million barrels of daily oil production is concentrated in the largest emirate, Abu Dhabi.

A UAE government Web site puts Dubai's total production at about 240,000 barrels per day, although industry experts say actual output may be less than half that figure. It isn't known what percentage comes from the Rashid field.

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