Helicopter often used by Bolivian president crashes; 5 dead but president said safe

The Associated Press, July 21, 2008

La Paz, Bolivia - A Venezuelan military helicopter often used to transport Bolivian President Evo Morales crashed in central Bolivia, but Morales was not aboard and is safe, Bolivia's defense minister said Monday. Five crew members were reported killed.

Morales had used the Super Puma helicopter on Saturday and was scheduled to fly in it again on Monday, Defense Minister Walker San Miguel told reporters. He said those killed were "people linked to presidential transport."

The cause of the accident has not yet been determined, San Miguel added.

Morales visited a part of Bolivia's Amazon region on Monday and asked for a moment of silence for the crew that originally had been scheduled to fly him there. He said he felt "great pain" at their loss and expressed condolences to the Venezuelan government.

Morales uses two Super Puma helicopters lent by the government of leftist ally Venezuela for his travel within Bolivia.

The helicopter took off around 3:30 p.m. (1930 GMT) on Sunday from Bolivia's central city of Cochabamba, where it had stopped to refuel. It was headed for the northern Amazon city of Cobija when Cochabamba air officials declared an emergency, noting the chopper was down.

It was not located until dawn on Monday, when a farmer reported the crash in the village of Colomi, a mountainous area about 155 miles (250 kilometers) east of La Paz, San Miguel said.

San Miguel said officials went to the crash site to investigate and recover the bodies of the crew.

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