UN helicopter crashes in Sierra Leone, killing 24

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The Independent Online

A UN helicopter crashed in Sierra Leone today, killing all 24 passengers and crew, a UN spokesman said. A search was under way.

A Russian news agency quoted authorities there as saying the helicopter had crashed.

The helicopter took off from Freetown, Sierra Leone's capital, with 21 passengers and three crew on board, but never arrived at its destination, the western city of Kailahun. Ground crew lost radio contact with aircraft and sent a search mission seven minutes later.

The aircraft had been on a routine flight, carrying peacekeepers and other UN military personnel, and aid workers and other civilians. It was Russian made, and flown under contract with the United Nations, according to a Russian news agency.

The United Nations has about 11,000 peacekeepers in Sierra Leone overseeing the peace process in the wake of the west African nation's brutal 1991-2002 civil war.