China finds missing helicopter near quake epicenter

Updated: 2008-06-10 13:07

CHENGDU -- Searchers have found the remains of the missing Chinese helicopter and people on board in the mountains near the quake epicenter town Yingxiu, according to a military source here Tuesday.

The debris of the Mi-171 helicopter was found in the bushes northwest of Yingxiu Township at 10:55 a.m. Tuesday. Militia and reservists mobilized by the Chengdu Military Area Command found the missing chopper.

Five members of the crew and 14 quake victims were all found dead. The helicopter broke up with its parts including the propeller, airframe and empennage found scattered in the bushes.

Based on the degree of the severe damage and the surrounding terrain, the helicopter might have hit a mountain before it crashed, according to an official with the relief headquarters of the Chengdu Military Area Command.

The military camouflage of the helicopter made the debris hardly visible to the naked eye, military sources said, adding the thick forest and bushes in the mountainous areas, along with aftershock-triggered landslides, also hampered searching efforts.

The rescue helicopter could not land at the crash site because of the steep valley, high mountain and heavy forest cover, said an official with the Sichuan Provincial Military Region Quake Relief and Rescue Headquarters.

It would take two to three days to remove the bodies, and about 600 soldiers would take part in the move, the official said.

President Hu Jintao on Tuesday afternoon expressed condolences for the crew and people on board the helicopter, and sent his sympathies to the families of the dead.

Hu, also the Central Military Commission chairman, at the same time expressed his heartfelt gratitude to the search teams, including the troops, militia and reservists.

He urged people to study the heroic deeds and lofty spirit of the military men, and work hard to achieve an all-around victory in the quake-relief work.

As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, a 130-strong team of militia, forensic experts and epidemic prevention staff set off from the Aba Prefecture-based relief headquarters and headed for the scene of the crash.

The time of their arrival was unknown.

More than 100 helicopters were sent to locate the chopper, while more than 300 rescue teams, consisting of more than 10,000 troops, armed police, militia, reservists and local residents, combed the region to search for the missing aircraft.

The Mi-171 military transport helicopter crashed at 2:56 p.m. on May 31while transferring 14 injured local residents from the epicenter of the May 12 quake in the southwestern Sichuan Province.

The helicopter, affiliated with the quake-relief troops of the Chengdu Military Area Command, was reported to have encountered strong turbulence and fog.

The crew, led by Senior Colonel Qiu Guanghua, had completed 63 flights, transferring 25.8 tons of relief materials, 87 quake relief workers and 234 victims before the accident.

The accident occurred among very complicated terrain while the weather was unpredictably abominable, said sources with the Chengdu Military Command Area.

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