Moscow, 19 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A Russian military transport helicopter crashed today near the Khankala air base in Chechnya, killing at least 74 of the troops on board. Some Russian news agencies quote military sources as saying that at least 80 soldiers were killed in the crash east of the Chechen capital Grozny. But other sources indicate a lower death toll.
What caused the Mi-26 helicopter to go down is unclear. A report posted on the Chechen separatist government's website said the helicopter was shot down by independence fighters. The Russian military could not confirm the Chechen claim.
A spokesman for the Russian Defense Ministry, Nikolai Deryabin, told national television that the pilot had requested permission to perform an emergency landing because an engine was on fire.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has ordered a "thorough investigation" into the crash.