South Korean team to probe UN chopper crash in Nepal

March 4th, 2008 - 4:29 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, March 4 (IANS) The South Korean government is sending a fact finding mission to investigate a UN helicopter crash in Nepal that killed all 12 people aboard, including a 50-year-old South Korean soldier who is the first foreigner to be identified. Lt-Col Park Hyung-jin was among the seven foreigners, mostly staff of the UN Mission in Nepal (UNMIN), who along with five Nepalis were killed Monday afternoon after the Russian MI 17 chopper ferrying them from a Maoist guerrilla cantonment in Sindhuli district in eastern Nepal to the capital crashed in a remote village.

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

South Korea was the first foreign government to react to the disaster.

It formed a fact-finding team headed by Air Force Major Gen Lee Young-man and including two relatives of Park Hyung-jin that would reach Kathmandu Tuesday.

Bad weather with downpours, thunder and lightning hampered search and rescue operations in Bethan village in Ramechhap district, where the chopper crashed, with 10 badly mangled and charred bodies being retrieved till late Monday.

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.

Nepal’s home ministry Tuesday said four of the five Nepali victims have been identified.

However, UNMIN, that was employed in Nepal since last year to help in the peace negotiations between the multiparty government and Maoist rebels, remained silent on the identity of the victims, only officially admitting that there had been “fatalities”.

Aviation sources said the dead include three Russian crewmembers, an Indonesian and a Swede.

The UNMIN and Nepal Army are also sending separate helicopters to the crash site.

Lt-Col Park Hyung-jin was among the five South Koreans deployed in UNMIN. The UNMIN, headed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon’s special representative Ian Martin, is entrusted with managing the arms and combatants of the Maoists’ People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and observing the election in April.

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.

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

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