14 killed in Chile helicopter crash (Lead)

February 16th, 2009 - 1:45 pm ICT by IANS  

Santiago, Feb 16 (IANS) Fourteen firefighters and other emergency personnel died when the helicopter they were travelling in crashed in Chile’s Chanco area, the local media reported Monday.

The accident occurred about 5 p.m. (2000 GMT) Sunday in Chanco, 440 km south of the Chilean capital, when employees of Celco firm were being transported to the La Vega sector of the Maule region to fight a forest fire there, EFE reported.

The acting governor of the Maule region, Maria del Carmen Perez, and the Cauquenes attorney general, Hector de la Fuente, confirmed the incident.

Perez said that the identities of the dead were not yet known, but she said they included firefighters and Carabineros, Chile’s militarised police force, as well as members of the regional emergency office.

The spot where the chopper went down was said to be very difficult to access, and there was no cell phone service available there, making it impossible to get timely information from rescuers.

The National Forestry Corporation chief, Dante Bravo, said that the people who died were likely between ages “18 and 30 … (and) many of them were the fathers of families”.

He added that since Friday they had been fighting a forest fire in the area that has burned some 775 acres.

He said that a total of 96 emergency personnel were battling the fire using two helicopters.

“At the end of the day, (the helicopter) apparently crashed in some part” of the hills in the region, which are “rather high”, Bravo said.

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