Nepal army finds wreckage of WWF chopper

A Nepali army rescue team on Monday located the wreckage of a helicopter chartered by conservation group WWF, two days after it went missing in bad weather with 24 people on board, an airport official said.

The rescuers saw many bodies at the site, he said.

The army helicopter found the crashed aircraft one nautical mile south-west of Ghunsa, a village in Taplejung district, about 300km east of the capital, Kathmandu.

“The army helicopter could not land at the site but it could see many bodies there,” Purushottam Shakya, who coordinates rescues from Kathmandu airport, told Reuters.

“The rescuers were not able to have a close view because of the terrain,” he said. “We have sent a medical team and photographers to take pictures and are waiting for more details.”

The search for the missing Russian-made helicopter had been hampered by incessant rains and fog, which prevented rescue helicopters taking off.

The weather had also hampered a ground search for the helicopter that had been chartered by WWF.

The area, located above 3 500m, is very remote and with few villages, in a rugged landscape dominated by ravines and gorges, officials said.

Of the 20 passengers and four crew, 17 were Nepalis. Others included a Finnish diplomat, two Americans, a Canadian and an Australian, as well as two Russians.

Nepal’s junior forest minister, Gopal Rai, his wife, Finnish Charge d’Affaires Pauli Mustonen and the deputy director of the United States Agency for International Development in Nepal, Margaret Alexander, were among them.

Other passengers were conservationists working for the WWF and two Nepali television journalists.
The passengers had attended the handover of a WWF project to the local community and were on their way back.

The helicopter left Ghunsa village at about noon local time but never arrived at its destination in Taplejung town, a 20-minute flight.

Officials said on Sunday villagers had reported hearing a loud noise in a gorge soon after the helicopter left Ghunsa, a region that is home to the world’s third-highest peak, Mount Kanchenjunga.

Eighteen people, including 13 Germans, were killed when a commercial plane crashed in the hills of western Nepal in 2002.

Himalayan Nepal, home to Mount Everest, has a poorly developed road network and many tourists and officials travel by helicopters or small planes to remote mountainous areas.—Reuters

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