Rescue helicopter crashes in central Japan; at least 3 dead

TOKYO (AP) — A rescue helicopter carrying nine people crashed in snow-covered mountains in central Japan during a training flight Sunday, leaving at least three people dead and four missing.

Nagano prefectural police said three men pulled from the crash site were airlifted to nearby hospitals but pronounced dead, and two others found later were unconscious. Police said they believed the remaining four were still trapped underneath the debris from the helicopter.

TV footage showed the mangled aircraft sitting belly-up in the snow-covered forest on the side of Mount Hachibuse, about 250 kilometers (150 miles) northwest of Tokyo.

Police said the search effort, hampered by deep snow, was suspended for the night and would resume Monday morning.

The cause of the crash was under investigation. Police said the helicopter, carrying seven firefighters, an engineer and the pilot, lost contact during mountain rescue training Sunday afternoon.

Japanese public broadcaster NHK said the helicopter, belonging to Nagano prefecture's rescue unit, is a 15-seat Bell 420EP made by Bell Helicopter, based in Fort Worth, Texas.