Three people have yet to be found after a helicopter was forced to ditch in the North Sea off the Shetland Islands on Friday evening.

The Super Puma helicopter was carrying 18 people when it ran into trouble near to the remote northern archipelago, close to Sumburgh Airport. Fifteen people have so far been recovered from the sea, with air and sea search looking for the remaining three.

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A Super Puma helicopter, similar to the one that was forced to ditch

According to the coastguard, the helicopter's life rafts were found empty while some of the wreckage from the Puma had been found washed up on the Sumburgh coast.

According to the BBC, nine of the rescued were flown to Lerwick by a rescue helicopter. One was taken off the vehicle on a stretcher.

The helicopter was being operated by CHC, a company that transports workers to and the North Sea's many gas platforms.

In a statement, the company said: "We can confirm that an L2 aircraft has landed in the water, approximately two miles west of Sumburgh. The aircraft was on approach to Sumburgh Airport at approximately 6.20pm when contact was lost with air traffic control. We can confirm there were 16 passengers on board, and two crew."

A spokesman for Police Scotland said: "The search is currently ongoing involving a number of agencies, coordinated by Maritime and Coastguard Agency and so far 15 people have been uplifted to Gilbert Bain Hospital in Lerwick. Sumburgh Airport is currently closed to allow emergency services to deal with the ongoing incident."

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Shetland's remote Sumburgh Airport

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Two lifeboats from Lerwick and Aith are being helped at the scene by helicopters from the coastguard, RAF Lossiemouth and two Bond rescue helicopters.

A spokeswoman for the coastguard said passengers suffered a range of injuries.

She said: "The people that were involved are in varying stages of injury, no one has walked away from this without a scratch."

One coastguard rescue helicopter that was sent to the scene returned to Lerwick with nine passengers, the BBC reported. Eight people walked off the aircraft and one person was carried off on a stretcher.

Investigators from the Air Accidents Investigation Branch (AAIB) are travelling to the scene tonight. A spokesman for the Department for Transport said: "The AAIB is aware of the incident and has deployed a team."

Northlink Ferries said it had diverted a ferry and a freight ship to help with the rescue. A spokeswoman said: "The Scottish Coastguard are in the lead of the operation, but I can confirm that the Hjatland passenger ferry and Helliar freight vessel are providing support.

"We believe there are 201 passengers on board the Hjatland, which was on its way to Orkney to pick up more passengers."

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The RNLI lifeboat leaves Aith to aid the ditched helicopter

Jim Nicholson, RNLI rescue co-ordinator, told the BBC there are two lifeboats in the area carrying out searches for the three missing people. He said that the helicopter is in an "inaccessible" position and that weather in the area is not "particularly good".

He said to BBC News: "There was a fresh wind, not overly strong, visibility is not particularly good and it was misty in the area but I doubt if that would have had any impact on causing whatever happened to the helicopter. I believe that the helicopter is in a fairly inaccessible position at the moment near the cliffs. There's quite a lot of tide in that area so any person in the water could be carried some distance away.

"It will be becoming much more difficult with darkness but I have no doubt that those involved are putting in every effort to try to obtain the best possible outcome."

WATCH: Video of the lifeboat launch from Aith Station

The Unite union's Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: "The early news filtering through of this evening's helicopter ditching off the coast of Shetland carrying a reported 18 people is deeply concerning.

"Our immediate thoughts are with those people and their families and we can only hope for good news although as time goes on the situation becomes more worrying. Fifteen people have thankfully been rescued and accounted for, unfortunately some with injuries, and their rescue is testimony to the bravery and skills of the rescue services.

"This brings into sharp focus once again the very precarious nature of the transportation of workers to and from offshore platforms. The health and safety of working people is our priority and we will be watching events closely as they happen."

The Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland offered her prayers to those involved. The Right Reverend Lorna Hood said: "Our thoughts and prayers are with all those involved in the Super Puma helicopter crash off Shetland and especially those waiting news of their loved ones."

The helicopter was flying from the Borgsten Dolphin oil platform in the North Sea to Sumburgh airport when it went down. A specialist medical team has been flown out from Aberdeen Royal Infirmary to Lerwick by the RAF helicopter from Lossiemouth, the coastguard said.