Tue, Jun 03, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Soldiers search for crashed chopper in PRC quake zone

AFP , SHIFANG, CHINA

Thousands of soldiers scoured China's mountainous earthquake zone yesterday for a military helicopter that was carrying injured quake survivors when it crashed in a fog at the weekend.

There was no clue as to the fate of the five crew members and 14 passengers who were on board the army Mi-171 helicopter when it went down on Saturday in southwestern Sichuan Province, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported.

It said four rescue helicopters had launched missions in the area where the crash was believed to have taken place, assisted by more than 3,000 soldiers on the ground.

But the search had so far been in vain, the Chinese defense ministry said.

“The wreckage of the crashed helicopter has not yet been found,” the ministry said in a statement, adding that a “continuous and all-out air and ground search” had been launched.

Military personnel involved in the effort said they believed the crash took place in the vicinity of Zhaogong Mountain in Sichuan Province, which bore the brunt of the May 12 quake.

The helicopter was on a mission to carry epidemic prevention experts to Li County and was returning with residents too seriously injured to be moved by land, the agency said.

Reflecting the grueling routines forced on military chopper crews in the quake zone, it had completed 63 flights since the earthquake on May 12.

The death toll from the quake, China’s worst for a generation, has risen to 69,016, with 18,830 still missing, the government said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, more than a million people waited anxiously for drainage work to start on a menacing lake — the size of more than 50,000 Olympic-size swimming pools — created when quake-triggered landslides blocked a river.

Regular troops and paramilitary forces toiled for a week to dig a diversion channel for the Tangjiashan “quake lake,” hoping to prevent it overflowing and flooding densely populated areas downstream.

By late Sunday, the last troops had been flown out by helicopter, leaving a handful of experts charged with monitoring the situation, the water resources ministry said on its Web site.

It remained unclear early yesterday if the plan to divert water via the newly dug channel would succeed.

State television said earlier that plans to blast holes in the rubble with dynamite had been abandoned amid fears it could trigger a flood.

The Tangjiashan lake is just one of about three dozen “quake lakes” created by the 7.9 magnitude tremor, and people throughout the region are monitoring as the others swell.

“We have sent our water resource specialists and geologists to check out the quake lakes,” said Wen Miaogui, a spokesman for Hongbai Township, one of several communities devastated by the quake.

“We think they won’t be too dangerous. Downstream we have a lot of good infrastructure, so we think we will be able to avoid disaster,” he said.

While that work goes on, people are still trying to piece together their lives.

Of the dead, more than 11,000 are reported to be children and teachers who were killed when schools collapsed on top of them.

It made Children’s Day, which China marked on Sunday, a particularly poignant occasion as grieving parents mourned their offspring and vented fury over the alleged shoddy construction of many school buildings.

“[The authorities] said we should come and celebrate because the kids here today are the future of Beichuan,” a young mother surnamed Li said.

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