Mon, Sep 25, 2006 - Page 5 News List

Bad weather slows search for a helicopter in Nepal


Fresh rainfall and fog cover over mountains in eastern Nepal was hampering rescuers yesterday as they searched for a helicopter reported missing with 24 people on board, officials said.

Those on board the helicopter chartered by conservation group WWF included a Nepalese minister, a Finnish diplomat and several Western aid workers.

Nepal's Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Pradeep Gyawali said rescue helicopters flew to the area early yesterday but the weather conditions had forced them to return to nearby airports and security camps by midday.

Gyawali said the helicopters would resume the search as soon as the weather improves.

Gyawali said a team of 90 soldiers and policemen had also been sent to the area on foot yesterday to assist another ground team already there.

The passengers included Nepal's Forest Minister Gopal Rai and his wife, the Finnish Embassy's Charge d'Affaires Pauli Mustonnen and Deputy Director of USAID in Nepal Margaret Alexander. WWF said in a statement that seven of its employees were among the missing, including four Nepalese, an Australian a Canadian and an American.

Nepalese journalists, government officials and two Russian crew members were also on board.

The helicopter left Ghunsa village on Saturday but failed to arrive at Suketar, its intended destination, a 20-minute flight away.

Both villages are in the Taplejung district, about 500km east of Nepal's capital, Kathmandu.

"We hope that all on board will be rescued safely," WWF International's director general James Leape said in a statement.

"Our thoughts are with our missing colleagues and their families and WWF is doing everything it can to help the government of Nepal in its search for the helicopter," he said.

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