U.N. Mi-8 Helicopter Crashes Off S. Leone

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IL Serge Pod #08.11.2001 20:36

Serge Pod


U.N. Helicopter Crashes Off S. Leone
By CLARENCE ROY-MACAULAY, Associated Press Writer

FREETOWN, Sierra Leone (AP) - Recovery teams searched for victims off the coast of Sierra Leone on Thursday after a U.N. helicopter crashed into the sea. All seven people on board were presumed dead, U.N. officials said.

The Mi-8 helicopter crashed Wednesday night near the U.N. headquarters in the capital, Freetown, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said in New York. A witness heard a loud explosion, but there was no immediate report of any attack on the helicopter, he said.

A large United Nations (news - web sites) peacekeeping force known as UNAMSIL is disarming combatants in a brutal 10-year civil war in the West African nation.

The helicopter was traveling from U.N. headquarters to an airport across the bay at Lungi to meet the visiting Zambian army commander and his delegation, U.N. officials said in Freetown. Four Ukrainian crew members, two Zambian military observers and a Bulgarian civilian member of the U.N. air operations staff were on board.

Three bodies were recovered overnight in a search and rescue operation, which continued Thursday. By midmorning, however, rescuers had given up hope of finding any survivors, U.N. special representative Oluyemi Adeniji said.

The Ukrainian Defense Ministry said the bodies found were those of crew commander Volodimir Savchuk, pilot Sergei Filipovich and a U.N. representative whose name was not given.

An engineer and an interpreter for the helicopter squadron were still missing, the ministry said in a statement.

The two Zambian officers were also missing, Zambia government spokesman Vernon Mwaanga said in Lusaka.

Justice Minister and Attorney General Solomon Berewa offered the condolences of the Sierra Leone government and people.

``We have gone so far with the peace process ... but these gentlemen could not live to see the glory of their efforts,'' he said. ``They have paid the highest sacrifice on our behalf.''

Last month, a British army trainer was killed in a helicopter accident in eastern Sierra Leone. British personnel are acting as military observers and staff officers for the U.N. mission, training Sierra Leone troops and advising the government.

Under pressure from the U.N. and British forces, as well as troops from neighboring Guinea, the rebels signed a cease-fire with the government last November. Since then, about 25,000 combatants have disarmed, including about half the rebel force.
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