UPDATE 3-S.Korean divers find crashed Airbus chopper, 7 people missing

By Hyunjoo Jin and Joyce Lee

* Airbus helicopter was on medical flight when it crashed

* Search ongoing for seven people on board

* Chopper crashed into sea, found in 70 metres of water

* President Moon orders safety checks on similar models (Add comments from press briefing)

By Hyunjoo Jin and Joyce Lee

SEOUL, Nov 1 (Reuters) - Divers from South Korean rescue services on Friday located an Airbus chopper which fell into the sea with seven people on board off the disputed islets of Dokdo late on Thursday.

A body was found close to the wreckage, Yonhap news agency reported. The Coast Guard was unable to confirm the report that a body had also been found and the search for the missing was ongoing.

The Airbus H225 Super Puma helicopter, operated by South Korea's fire department, was found in 70 meters of water on Friday afternoon, a coast guard official told a media briefing earlier.

South Korea's President Moon Jae-in said he had ordered safety checks for other H225 in service in the country.

The helicopter was carrying an injured person to hospital when it crashed about two minutes after takeoff from Dokdo close to midnight, a fire department official said. The Dokdo islets, which South Korea and Japan claim as their territory, are called Takeshima in Japan.

Rescue officials were trying to secure the blackbox and voice recorder to find out what went wrong, the official said.

An Airbus subcontractor carried out maintenance for the model's main gear system between September and October, followed by test flying, and there were no safety issues found, he added.

“We are aware that a H225 operated by the South Korean National 119 Rescue Headquarters, has been involved in an accident," Airbus said in a statement to Reuters, referring to the fire department.

"We stand ready to provide full technical assistance to the customer and authorities as required."

Airbus Helicopters won a contract in 2017 for two additional H225 helicopters from South Korea's fire department, but the models have yet to be delivered. The fire department currently operates an all-Airbus helicopter fleet comprising two AS365 N2 and two H225.


PAST CRASHES

The stricken helicopter went into service in 2016. On board were two pilots, one maintenance official, two rescue officials, the injured patient and person accompanying them.

The pilots were veterans with about 23 and 17 years of experience respectively, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said.

The H225 model, previously known as a Eurocopter EC-225, is a heavy twin-engined helicopter used in search and rescue or military operations worldwide.

An accident off Norway that killed 13 North Sea oil workers in 2016 had also involved a H225.

But it has suffered commercially since oilfield demand fell and the Norway crash prompted many North Sea workers to boycott the helicopter. It competes with the Sikorsky S-92.

The accident in Norway led to a temporary grounding of most of the global fleet and prompted Airbus SE to make design changes to gearboxes.

On Aug. 31, an Airbus AS350 helicopter crashed in northern Norway, killing all six people on board and prompting European regulators to order checks on recently delivered versions of some Airbus helicopters. (Additional reporting by Hyonhee Shin and Ju-min Park in Seoul, Tim Hepher in Hong Kong, Jamie Freed in Sydney; Editing by Jane Wardell, Stephen Coates & Simon Cameron-Moore)