Mongolia

4 U.N. officials, 5 others die in helicopter crash in Mongolia

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By CHRISTOPHER BODEEN

Associated Press Writer

BEIJING (AP) A helicopter carrying U.N. disaster relief officials crashed in Mongolia on Sunday, killing nine people, including five foreigners, officials said. Fourteen people were injured, 10 of them critically.

The Russian-made MI-8 helicopter spun out of control about 50 meters (165 feet) off the ground, crashed and exploded in flames in northwestern Mongolia at 12:30 p.m., said a Mongolian civil defense official who goes by only one name, Batchuluun.

Four members of a U.N. disaster assessment team were killed: An American, a Briton, a German and a Mongolian, U.N. spokesman Fred Eckhard said in New York. He said their names would be released after relatives were notified.

Eckhard said the crash also killed three other Mongolians _ a member of parliament, a photographer and a helicopter technician _ and two Japanese journalists. Japan's Kyodo news agency said one of them worked in the China bureau of Japanese broadcaster NHK.

China's official Xinhua News Agency identified the lawmaker who was killed as S.H. Otgonbileg and said the crash was being investigated by a panel headed by Mongolia's defense minister, Jugderdemidiin Gurragchaa.

The American who was killed worked for UNICEF in Mongolia, the German was a desk officer at the United Nations in Geneva, and the Mongolian U.N. employee worked for the U.N. Population Fund, Eckhard said.

Batchuluun said the plane was carrying eight U.N. representatives, at least two Mongolian government officials and an undetermined number of Japanese and Mongolian reporters. The injured were taken to a local hospital.

The helicopter crashed near Malchin in Mongolia's northwestern corner, about 960 kilometers (600 miles) from the capital, Ulan Bator.

The U.N. representatives were part of a team assessing the effects of punishing weather patterns in advance of a visit planned for later this week by acting U.N. humanitarian relief coordinator Carolyn McAskie, Eckhard said.

Two years of summer drought followed by heavy snows have decimated Mongolia's livestock, which represent about 80 percent of the economy in the largely nomadic country between China and Russia.

McAskie had planned to travel to Mongolia on Tuesday, but she moved the trip up to Monday after learning of the crash, Eckhard said. She was to appeal Friday for international aid to alleviate the effects of the weather, but that might be postponed, he said.

AP-NY-01-14-01 1235EST

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