Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Presidential Helicopter Crashes, Morales Safe

July 22 – Yesterday President Evo Morales offered his condolences to the relatives of the four Venezuelan soldiers and one Bolivian soldier killed in a helicopter accident in Bolivia.

Morales said, "Brothers and sisters really, (we express) a bitter pain of the Government Palace for the families of those who died in the helicopter accident."

Condolences were also offered by the Bolivian government to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for the deaths of the four Venezuelan soldiers.

The military officers were killed on Sunday when a Super Puma helicopter, donated to Bolivia by the Venezuelan government, crashed in the department of Cochabamba. The helicopter was used to transport President Morales and high ranking officials.

The accident occurred mid-afternoon Sunday, a couple of hours after President Morales used the same aircraft in a trip on the Western plateau, said Defense Minister Walker San Miguel in a phone interview with radio network Patria Nueva.

"President Morales used the same helicopter on Sunday when he was traveling from the Huanuni tin mine to the city of Oruro. We are deeply concerned because, according to the first report of a witness, the helicopter blew up upon reaching the ground," said San Miguel according to Reuters.

The aircraft, with a capacity for more than 20 people, took off around 3:00 p.m. from Bolivia's central city of Cochabamba and headed for the northern Amazon city of Cobija, San Miguel explained.

At 3:13 p.m. the Bolivian authorities made last contact with the crew. They reported that the helicopter was overflying the Colomí village, at an altitude of some 14,500 to 15,500 feet. The Airport Administration and Auxiliary Services to Air Navigation (AASANA) in La Paz contacted the Bolivian Air Force (FAB) at 7:10 p.m. on Sunday to report that the helicopter had not reached its destination.

The remains of the helicopter were found early Monday morning in Colomi, a mountainous area 155 miles east of La Paz.

Bolivian military personnel went to the scene in order to investigate the cause of the accident and recover the bodies of the victims, said San Miguel.

Minister San Miguel said the helicopter was fully operative, with proper maintenance and he did not know the cause of the accident.

Last year, another chopper donated by Venezuela crashed on the outskirts of the city of Cochabamba – killing three Bolivian soldiers and one Venezuelan soldier.

Sources: ABI, AP, El Universal and Xinhua

Photos: ABI and Associated Press



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