The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) is launching an investigation to determine the cause of the crash of a UN-contracted helicopter in which three crew members died near Bentiu in Unity State yesterday. One crew member survived.
The United Nations Mission in South Sudan released a statement confirming that one of its MI-8 helicopters crashed about 10 km south of Bentiu in Unity State. UNMISS says the helicopter lost contact with the UN in the afternoon on Tuesday as it was flying from Wau in Western Bahr El Ghazal State to Bentiu.
“The Mission lost contact with the helicopter, which was on a routine cargo flight from Wau to Bentiu, at 14.28 hours today,” reads the statement.
UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujarric says the Mission says the dead were Russian citizens. He added that there was one surviving crew member who has received treatment from aid workers in Bentiu.
Yesterday Reuters reported that the Russian aircraft owner UTair airline said its Mi-8 helicopter was shot down but did not crash accidentally.
“According to preliminary information, the helicopter was shot down with surface-to-air fire and is lying 3 kilometers away from the destination airport,” the company said in a statement. The United Nations is yet to corroborate this report.
But the South Sudanese rebel group SPLM-IO denied responsibility for the incident, saying its forces in the area under the overall command of Peter Gadet Yak did not shoot down the aircraft, Sudanese Media reported this morning.
The government’s military spokesman Col. Philip Aguer had earlier alleged the rebels were responsible for shooting down the helicopter.
“Col. Philip Aguer’s rushed and premature accusations are unfounded and baseless. SPLA calls upon UNMISS to conduct thorough investigations to establish the circumstances under which the chopper came down,” said SPLM-IO military spokesman Lul Ruai.
He also said the rebel group pledges “full cooperation with the Investigation Team once formed.”
UNMISS is helping to stabilize and develop the new African country which became independent in July 2011 but which has been engulfed in conflict since December last year.