UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
SIERRA LEONE: UN grounds helicopters after crash
FREETOWN, 1 Jul 2004 (IRIN) - The United Nations in Sierra Leone has grounded all Russian-built MI-8 helicopters in their service after one crashed in thick jungle in the east of the country this week, a spokeswoman said.
"All helicopters of the same make have been grounded," Sheila Dallas, the acting spokeswoman for the United Nations Assistance Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL) told IRIN late Wednesday.
There are currently 11 Russian MI-8 helicopters in Sierra Leone. They were routinely used by aid workers and UN personnel in the absence of good roads.
"This is routine, because we do not know what actually happened. Since nobody can tell what happened we have decided to ground them so that the engineers can check them," she added.
The helicopter that crashed on Tuesday, had been on a routine supply trip to Yengema in Kono district in eastern Sierra Leone when it hit a granite mountain not far from its destination, killing the three-man crew and all 21 passengers on board.
The New York head office of the UN said on Tuesday that it had opened a special investigation into the cause of the crash -- the second in three years involving a Russia-built MI-8 helicopter in Sierra Leone.
In November 2001, seven UNAMSIL staff died when their helicopter plunged into the sea shortly after take-off from the capital Freetown.
Over 11,000 peacekeepers from 31 countries remain in Sierra Leone, overseeing a 2001 peace accord that put an end to the West African nation's brutal 10-year civil war. UN peacekeepers and aid workers routinely use helicopters to travel around the country because the roads are so poor.
The UN said in a press release that Tuesday's victims included 14 from Pakistan's UNAMSIL contingent and one peacekeeper from Bangladesh, three Russian crew members, a Ghanaian UN volunteer, a Sierra Leonean UN civilian contractor, three Sierra Leonean aid workers and one Ugandan aid worker.
Dallas said the bodies had been recovered and had arrived at a Freetown hospital late Wednesday evening. The victims' names will not be released until the remains have been properly identified.
The crash site was being guarded by Pakistani UNAMSIL troops, Dallas said.
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