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Sunday, September 24, 2006

Helicopter with 24 on board missing

On 23rd September a private helicopter carrying 24 people, including a junior minister and staff of a nature conservation group, disappeared in eastern Nepal today, a government minister and media reports said.Tourism minister Pradip Gyanwali confirmed media reports that the aircraft had been missing since noon local time.''Yes, it is missing,'' he told Reuters, but could give no further details.The Himalayan Times online service said junior forestry minister Gopal Rai was among 24 people on board the helicopter which went missing in the Taplejung district, 300 km east of the capital, Kathmandu.The helicopter was also carrying staff of the WWF global environmental conservation group, the report said.

Officials of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) said they had lost contact with the helicopter, Shree Airlines 9N-AHJ (MI-172), after seven minutes taking off from Ghunsa, Kanchanjungha, at noon yesterday.

Two helicopters of the Nepal Army had been dispatched to search for the missing copter but bad weather and nightfall forced the suspension of all aerial search operations, reports said.
Security personnel have been mobilised to search the missing chopper.

''Locals heard a loud noise in the jungle five minutes after the helicopter took off from Ghunsa. The region is very remote. The helicopter vanished from the sky suddenly and nobody could see what happened next,'' a radio channel said.

According to reports, the passengers included Minister of State for Forest and Soil Conservation Gopal Rai and his wife, charge d' affaires in Embassy of Finland Pauli Mustonen, Forest secretary Damodar Prasad Parajuli, director general of the Department of Forest Sharad Rai, director general of DNPWC Narayan Poudel and Margaret Alexander of USAID, managing director of EHBC, World Wildlife Fund (WWF-U) Mingma N Sherpa, former minister Harka Gurung, conservation director of WWF-UK Jill Bowling, and co-chairman of ASRSG, WWF Nepal Tirtha Man Maskey and country representative WWF Nepal Chandra P Gurung.


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