Nepal seeks help in search for missing WWF chopper | india | Hindustan Times
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Nepal seeks help in search for missing WWF chopper

Over 100 soldiers and rescue experts were battling monsoon rains in remote Taplejung district where the MI-17 helicopter disappeared.

india Updated: Sep 25, 2006 12:38 IST
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Authorities in Nepal appealed to villagers on Monday for help in finding a helicopter chartered by conservation group WWF, nearly two days after it disappeared in bad weather with 24 people on board.

More than 100 soldiers, police personnel and rescue experts were battling monsoon rains in remote and mountainous Taplejung district, 300 km east of the capital, Kathmandu, where the Russian-built MI-17 helicopter disappeared on Saturday.

"At least seven helicopters are also in ready position in Taplejung (town) and nearby areas, including in Kathmandu, to resume the search as soon as the weather clears," Mahesh Shrestha, a rescue coordinator at Kathmandu airport, told the agency.

But the district administrator of Taplejung, Hem Nath Dawadi, said the weather remained a problem.

"It is continuously raining and very thick fog is covering the area with no sign of any let-up," he said.

On Sunday, the government offered a reward of $2,700 for information that could help locate the helicopter, but Tourism Minister Pradip Gyanwali said officials had heard nothing.

"I am getting increasingly frustrated now. We appeal to the people to help us locate the helicopter or its wreckage."

The area, located above 3,500 metres, is very remote and with few villages, in an area dominated by ravines and gorges, officials said.

Of the 20 passengers and four crew, 17 were Nepalis. Others included a Finnish diplomat, two Americans, a Canadian and an Australian, as well as two Russians.

Nepal's junior forest minister, Gopal Rai, his wife, Finnish Charge d'Affaires Pauli Mustonen, and the deputy director of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) in Nepal, Margaret Alexander, were among them.

Other passengers were conservationists working for the WWF and two Nepali television journalists.

The passengers had attended the handover of a WWF project to the local community and were on the way back.

The helicopter left Ghunsa village at about noon (0615 GMT) but never arrived at its destination in Taplejung town, a 20-minute flight.

Officials said on Sunday that villagers had reported hearing a loud noise in a gorge soon after the helicopter left Ghunsa, a region that is home to the world's third-highest peak, Mount Kanchenjunga.