Three environmentalists killed in Australian helicopter crash

SYDNEY (AFP) - Three environmentalists returning from a festival against a coal mine have died in a helicopter crash in Australia, police said on Tuesday (Nov 10), with the authorities still struggling to reach the rugged accident site.

The trio, named in local media as Mr Richard Green, 74, his wife Carolyn, 71, and documentary filmmaker John Davis, 72, left the small village of Breeza 390km north of Sydney for the Greens' home on the city's northern beaches on Saturday.

A search began after the Greens failed to return home and the wreckage was discovered late Monday in Watagans National Park in an "inaccessible" and "fairly rugged location", local New South Wales police commander Superintendent Craig Jackson said.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority said there were "severe" weather conditions on Saturday in the area where the wreckage of the EC135 Eurocopter was found some 100km north of Sydney.

The festival at Breeza was a protest against the Australian government's approval of the huge Chinese-run Shenhua coal mine, which is located near prime farmland in the state.

The approval, which was also criticised by national Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce, came amid growing community concerns about large-scale mining in rural areas and valuable agricultural and mineral assets being owned by foreigners.

New South Wales Greens MP Jeremy Buckingham, who spent time with the trio at the festival, described them as "committed environmentalists who did everything they could to record and protect Australia's wonderful environment".

"They were incredibly adventurous free spirits. They had resources and they put them into protecting Australia's environment," he told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The Australian Transport Safety Bureau will investigate the crash.