French army helicopter crashes, eight dead or missing
AFP - Monday, January 19
LIBREVILLE (AFP) - - Rescuers scoured the ocean off Gabon Sunday for six French soldiers missing after an army transport helicopter crashed, killing two soldiers, officials said.
The Cougar helicopter was carrying 10 soldiers, including six special forces paratroopers, when it went down shortly after take-off from the French carrier La Foudre on Saturday while taking part in military exercises with Gabon.
The French military announced that rescuers had pulled three survivors and a body from sea. However one survivor died in hospital in the Gabon capital, Libreville, said Lieutenant Colonel Francois-Marie Gougeon, spokesman for the general staff.
Rescuers were looking for more survivors off the coast of Nyonie, a town half-way between Libreville and the port city of Port-Gentil in the west African nation.
Oil giant Total lent a sonar and under-water robot to a salvage team that helped them locate the wreckage, said Lieutenant Maxime Pietrozycki in Libreville.
"We have located the wreckage, but we don't know for the time being if there was someone inside," he added.
There was no immediate information on the cause of the crash.
French Defence Minister Herve Morin went to Gabon, whose military was also taking part in the search operation.
"Gabon is doing all that it can to help with the search" for possible survivors, Interior Minister Andre Mba Obame told AFP.
Upon arriving in Libreville, Morin took a helicopter to La Foudre to monitor rescue efforts. He was to meet with family members and colleagues of the missing soldiers at Camp DeGaulle in Gabon.
France has about 1,000 troops in Gabon, a former colony and home to one of four permanent French military bases in Africa.
The 10 soldiers on the helicopter were among some 600 troops taking part in a joint maritime security exercise called Operation N'Gari during which forces were to be parachuted onto predetermined targets.
The helicopter went down shortly after taking off from La Foudre which was cruising 50 kilometres (30 miles) off the Gabonese coast, Gougeon said.
The ship "set off the alert and went to the scene of the crash with its own rescuers who picked up the injured within half an hour.
"The sea was calm and the wind low at the time of the crash but the night was very dark," he said.
Total sent three vessels to help in the rescue effort.
The last fatal accident for the French army was back in 2007 when eight French and one Canadian soldier were killed in a small plane crash while on an international peacekeeping monitoring flight over the Israeli-Egyptian border.
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A file photo of French soldiers undergoing manoeuvres in the Ivory Coast. Rescuers scoured the ocean off Gabon Sunday for six French soldiers missing after an army transport helicopter crashed, killing two soldiers, officials said.
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