Russian investigators are focusing on the possibility that engine failure could have caused the crash of a military helicopter in the breakaway republic of Chechnya Thursday that killed seven people. The initial government findings are at odds with a claim by Chechen rebels that they shot down the aircraft.
Russian media quoted officials as saying engine failure was the most likely cause of the crash. According to the Interfax news agency, Deputy Prosecutor General Sergei Fridinsky said eyewitnesses saw the aircraft spinning out of control before it crashed and exploded just outside the Chechen capital Grozny.
A rebel website claimed Chechen fighters had shot down the helicopter. Thursday's crash killed all seven passengers and left the three-man crew seriously injured.
Investigators hope to learn more once the pilot, co-pilot and navigator can be interviewed.
The aircraft, whose passengers included two doctors and five rescue workers, was part of a search operation looking for another helicopter that disappeared Sunday in the North Caucasus region.
This is the fourth Russian helicopter to crash in Chechnya in the past two weeks. A crash late last month in the northern part of the separatist republic killed all 14 people on board, including several high-ranking interior ministry officers.
The latest crash occurred just hours before Anatoly Kvashnin, chief of state of the Russian military, arrived in Chechnya. He is on a fact-finding mission to evaluate the progress of the two-year-old campaign.
Kremlin officials say their troops control the region, but Russian soldiers and government officials are frequently killed in ambushes and bomb attacks there.
Interfax reported that regional Deputy Prime Minister Ali Alavdinov suffered minor injuries Thursday when a bomb went off as his car drove through a village east of Grozny. It was the second attack on him in less than a month.