Moscow, 20 August 2002 (RFE/RL) -- Army officials say 99 servicemen were killed when a military transport helicopter crashed in a minefield outside Russia's main military base in Chechnya yesterday. ITAR-TASS quoted the deputy head of Russian forces in the North Caucasus, Colonel Boris Podoprigora, as saying 33 soldiers were wounded.
There were 132 people on board the Mi-26 helicopter when it crashed outside the Khankala military base. Russian media said the helicopter had a capacity of 85 people.
Interfax said rescuers have recovered 23 bodies from the wreckage.
Russian officials said an engine malfunction forced the helicopter to plough into the minefield set up by Russian forces to keep away Chechen rebels. The army denied Chechen claims they shot the helicopter down.
Defense Ministry investigators have began their probe into the cause of the crash.