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This undated photo shows a Bond Super Puma AS332L Mark II helicopter. A Super Puma that ditched Wednesday off the coast of Scotland was a Bond aircraft, the manufacturer said, although it has not been confirmed which model it was. ((Newsline Scotland/Associated Press))

At least eight people have died after a helicopter ditched in the North Sea off the coast of Scotland, local police said Wednesday.

Police said eight bodies were recovered. The search continues for eight other people, said Grampian police.

But Alex Salmond, first minister of Scotland's nationalist government, said the outlook was grim.

"It looks like we might be might be facing [Britain's] second-worst helicopter support incident in history, in terms of the number of fatalities," he said. "Eight bodies have been recovered and I am afraid to say the outlook for the other eight people involved is extremely bleak."

The crash occurred about 56 kilometres off the coast from the village of Crimond in northeast Scotland, said the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.

Aberdeen coast guards were informed of the crash just before 2 p.m. local time (9 a.m. ET), the MCA said in a statement.

Jake Molloy, spokesman for the oil workers union Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, said the helicopter was Bond Super Puma Flight 85 N, which had been due to arrive at Aberdeen Heliport at 2:15 p.m. local time. Bond has confirmed that one of its aircraft was involved.

Hospitals in the area said they were readying for the arrival of possible survivors.

Rescue still underway

Two Royal Air Force helicopters and a Nimrod airplane joined the search in the area, said a spokesman for the agency.

Coast guards broadcasted a mayday signal into the area, and a "variety of vessels have immediately responded," said the agency. A supply vessel in the vicinity called Normand Aurora dispatched one of its boats to look for survivors.

The helicopter, which was carrying 16 people, was returning from a North Sea oil and gas field operated by British energy company BP, coast guards said. Weather forecasts in the area indicated relatively fair conditions, with low levels of wind, waves and clouds.

Helicopters are frequently used to ferry workers to and from oil and gas fields in the North Sea.

The crash comes less than a month after a Super Puma helicopter ditched in the North Sea with 18 people on board.

All of those involved in the Feb. 18 crash survived.

On March 12, a Cougar Sikorsky S92-A crashed off the coast of Newfoundland, killing 17 people. As in Wednesday's crash, the helicopter was transporting oil platform workers. The sole survivor, Robert Decker, 27, was discharged from hospital in St. John's on Tuesday after staying there for two weeks and undergoing surgery to stabilize a fractured vertebra in his spine.

With files from the Associated Press