UN helicopter missing with 13 on board

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The Independent Online
A SEARCH was under way in the Caribbean waters around Haiti yesterday for a United Nations-chartered helicopter that went missing during a flight on Sunday evening from the capital, Port-au-Prince, to Cap Haitien, the country's second largest city.

Fred Eckhard, the United Nations spokesman in New York, said the helicopter, which had been chartered by an American company on the UN's behalf, had vanished about 20 minutes into its flight. There were 13 people on board, he said. Last night there was still no information on wreckage or the fate of the passengers.

The tragedy comes at a time when Haiti is struggling with a political stalemate that has been deepening since the resignation in June 1997 of the former prime minister, Rosny Smarth. With no replacement, Haiti has suffered a paralysis of government and a subsequent drying up of foreign aid.

Among the missing personnel last night were five Argentinians who were in Haiti as UN civilian police. Also on board the MI-8 Russian helicopter were six Russians, all thought to be members of the crew, as well as an American citizen connected with the company that had arranged the charter.

Sources said the group had originally left Port-au-Prince on board a different helicopter which had developed a fuel leak and returned to the capital. The second helicopter was reported missing about 20 minutes after its departure for Cap Haitien, in the north-west of the country.

With fears mounting that the aircraft may have gone down in the ocean, the search was being assisted last night by the United States Coast Guard.

Hundreds of millions of dollars that would have flowed to Haiti from the international community have been blocked recently because of the political stand-off between President Rene Preval and the opposition parties in Haiti's parliament.

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