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UN Helicopter Crashes in Sierra Leone, Kills 24 - 2004-06-29

A helicopter carrying United Nations staff has crashed in a remote mountainous area in Sierra Leone, killing all 24 people on board.

According to U.N. spokeswoman Sheila Dallas, the helicopter had been traveling for just over one hour when it slammed into the side of a hill.

"Our helicopter left from Hastings this morning which is in the Freetown area in route to Yengema and it crashed into a hill," he said. "It's in the eastern part of the country where the mountains are like granite. And this helicopter crashed into the hill in a jungle area. Our rescue helicopter saw the burning aircraft from the air maybe five minutes from Yengema. There were no survivors."

The crashed helicopter was a Russian-made MI-8 which belonged to the Russian company U-Tair.

The spokeswoman said there were 21 passengers on board including members of the peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone. The majority of the peacekeepers are believed to have been from Pakistan. Those killed also included staff from non-governmental organizations and three Russian crew members.

The peacekeeping operation is helping the west African nation recover from a decade long civil war that ended in 2002.

Helicopters are a common mode of transportation for United Nations staff there and the spokeswoman, Ms. Dallas, says this is the second U.N. helicopter to crash in Sierra Leone during its five-year mission.

"You know we had one earlier helicopter which crashed. This is the second one," he said. "I mean this is pretty good for a mission this size. We've had 17,300 peacekeepers plus all the civilians that have been here traveling everyday on these helicopters all over Sierra Leone."

The first crash left seven people dead. Investigations into the cause of the crash are continuing and a memorial service will take place.