KUALA LUMPUR - The body of a woman has been found at the site where a helicopter which went missing on Thursday with a deputy Cabinet minister on board is believed to have crashed, Malaysian authorities said on Friday (May 6).
"At 1200 hours, the Fire and Rescue Department located the first victim not far from where debris was found," Sarawak Fire and Rescue Department director Nor Hisham Mohammad told The Star Online.
The Eurocopter AS350 with six people on board including Plantation Industries and Commodities Deputy Minister Noriah Kasnon - the only female passenger - went missing around 4.30pm Thursday on its way to Kuching from Betong, a small town in eastern Sarawak, in the midst of a heated state election campaign.
Debris believed to be from the helicopter - a flotation device, a chair, parts from a door, rotor blade and wall - were found near the river Batang Lupar earlier on Friday morning, Prime Minister Najib Razak told reporters gathered at Kuching airport.
"The search and rescue team will continue their operation until the main body of the helicopter is found," Mr Najib said at the press conference.
The incident occurred just days before Sarawak's election on Saturday (May 7), with the country's ministers campaigning full force in the state.
According to reports, air traffic controllers lost contact with the helicopter while it was near Sebuyau. No distress call was received.
Mr Najib said at the Friday briefing that authorities could not conclude that all aboard had perished as they had not been traced. He also said it was up to the department of civil aviation to decide if there was a need to suspend the helicopter operator.
Besides Ms Noriah, who is is also Sungai Besar MP, the others on board were her husband, Asmuni Abdullah, the ministry's secretary-general, Dr Sundaran Annamalai, Kuala Kangsar MP and Malaysian Palm Oil Board member Wan Mohammad Khairil Anuar Wan Ahmad, personal bodyguard Ahmad Sobri Harun and pilot Rudolf Rex Ragas.
Ms Noriah's children arrived on a special flight on Friday afternoon at the Kuching International Airport together with family members of the other helicopter crash victims. They were later taken to the Sarawak General Hospital.