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Russian Helicopter Crashes During UN Mission

29 June 2004 -- UN officials have confirmed that one of its helicopters with 24 people aboard crashed in Sierra Leone today, apparently killing everyone aboard.

UN spokeswoman Sharon McPherson said that all 21 passengers and the three Russian crew members were presumed dead at the scene of the crash.

Another UN spokeswoman, Marie Okabe, told a news briefing at the United Nations in New York: "It appears that there may be no survivors in the tragic incident. The United Nations has launched an investigation into the event. The secretary-general [Kofi Annan] extends his deep condolences to the families and governments of those who have perished in this tragedy."

The Russian-made helicopter was carrying peacekeepers and aid workers on a flight to the western city of Kailahun when ground crew lost contact with the craft and alerted rescue teams.

Aviation officials in Sierra Leone said they found the crash site and saw the helicopter burning.

There was no immediate word on the cause of the crash, but Russian authorities said they will send a team to Sierra Leone to investigate.