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Search Resumes for Missing Helicopter
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A helicopter carrying five French-trained Nepali mountain rescuers has landed near where a chopper carrying 24 passengers and crew is believed to have disappeared, an official said Sunday.

"We hope that the team will be able to reach the presumed site of the missing helicopter in 2 or 3 hours," said Trishna Gurung, an official with the World Wildlife Fund that chartered the lost craft.

Passengers on the missing flight included a government minister and senior international WWF personnel.

Rain and fog had prevented helicopters and foot patrols from searching the heavily-wooded and mountainous terrain for most of Sunday, but one craft was able to take off in a window of clearer weather late in the afternoon, Gurung said.

"The five highly trained Nepali mountain guides are carrying communications devices, rations and medical gear," Gurung said.

Rescuers had briefly resumed their search early Sunday for passengers including Nepal's forest minister Gopal Rai and his wife as well as the Finnish embassy's charge d'affaires Pauli Mustonnen.

The helicopter is believed to have crashed shortly after takeoff around midday (06:15 GMT) on Saturday from the village of Ghunsa at an altitude of 3,475 meters.

Nepal's government offered a reward of US$2,700 for anyone who located the missing helicopter, the civil aviation authority said in a statement.

Some international and local media had reported the helicopter found, but this was not the case, it said.

"We request all media organizations to disseminate information only after official verification," the statement said.

Local people reported hearing a loud bang about five minutes after the helicopter took off, said Himesh Lal Karna, an air traffic official at Kathmandu airport.

"There is a high possibility that the helicopter may have crashed," Karna said.

Gurung, the WWF official quoted on the group's website, said two rescue teams had set out on foot on Saturday and were making "a valiant effort despite the rain and cold conditions in the mountains."

Locals and soldiers were assisting in the search, Gurung said.

A third search team of 120 police, soldiers and locals left nearby Paplejung late on Saturday, the website said.

(China Daily September 25, 2006)


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