Unaccounted bodies among UN chopper crash victims in Nepal

Last Updated: Tue, Mar 04, 2008 11:14 hrs

Kathmandu: The UN helicopter crash in eastern Nepal has received a fresh twist with a mystery arising about the identities of two of the 12 victims, one of whom is a Nepali male.

The UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN) on Tuesday confirmed that it had lost seven of its personnel in the crash in Ramechhap district's Bethan village on Monday afternoon while the three western crew also perished.

“Four international arms monitors died in the accident, from Gambia, Indonesia, the Republic of Korea and Sweden,” UNMIN said in a statement in Kathmandu on Tuesday. “The air crew, from a Russian company, comprised two Russians and one Belarussian.” It also identified the three Nepali staffers, who died as the Russian MI-17 chopper crashed while returning to Kathmandu from a Maoist guerrilla cantonment in Sindhuli district.

UNMIN liaison officers Bhim Bahadur Gurung, language assistant Rabindra Khaniya and mechanic Rajesh Maharjan were identified as the Nepali victims. Of the foreign arms monitors, South Korea identified 50-year-old Lt. Col. Park Hyung-jin as the Korean casualty and said it was sending a fact-finding team to Nepal to probe the crash.

Maj. Gen. Lee Young-man is heading the Korean team that will also include two relatives of Hyung-jin.

However, while UNMIN has accounted for 10 deaths, Nepal's Home Ministry and police said two more bodies have been recovered. One of them has been identified as a Nepali male. It was not known immediately what the two unaccounted for passengers were doing aboard the UN chopper.

UN vehicles are under strict instruction not to carry outsiders.

Bad weather with downpours, thunder and lightning hampered search and rescue operations in Bethan village in Ramechhap district, where the chopper crashed. Ten badly mangled and charred bodies were being retrieved till late evening. By night, villagers and police personnel had been able to pull out two more bodies, said to have been entangled with the engine, taking the toll to 12.

The UN began notifying the permanent missions of each of the countries of the dead international personnel so that their families could be contacted. An UNMIN team as well as a Nepal Army helicopter reached the accident site for further search and investigation.

UNMIN said Nepal's Civil Aviation Authority would probe the crash, with participation by it and the chopper company.

The teams at the crash site began packing the badly mangled bodies in body bags to bring them to Kathmandu and conduct the last rites according to the wishes of the families.

UNMIN Chief Ian Martin, who is the UN Secretary-General’s special representative, expressing sorrow over the tragedy, said: “They (the UNMIN personnel) died while working to sustain peace in Nepal, and UNMIN will continue in the midst of this tragedy to apply its best efforts to this purpose.”

UNMIN’s tenure in Nepal had ended in January. However, it was given a six-month extension after the Nepal Government failed to hold the election in November and was also unable to come up with a concrete plan to rehabilitate the PLA combatants living in barracks under UNMIN supervision.

Bad weather and pilot error are likely to have caused the crash.

Two years ago, all 24 people abroad a helicopter were killed when it crashed in eastern Nepal.

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