Wednesday, January 29

Peru rescuers to recover bodies of helicopter victims



A mountain rescue team reached the crash site Saturday and confirmed everyone on board had died

A police unit was climbing up a snowy peak in the Peruvian Andes on Sunday in a bid to recover the bodies of 14 people, including eight South Koreans, who died in a helicopter crash last week.

“We are on our way to the place where the wreckage and the bodies were spotted,” Cesar Guevara, the local official in charge of the case in the town of Urcos in the southern department of Cusco, told Canal N television by telephone.

He cautioned that “it could take at least four hours to get to the accident site, depending on weather conditions” and the physical strength of team members.

The team will likely finish removing the bodies on Sunday, Guevara explained.

The Peruvian Air Force had tried to reach the crash site by air the previous day, but poor weather forced its helicopters to return to Cusco International Airport by mid-morning Saturday.

A Sikorsky S-58 ET chopper vanished Wednesday while flying in snow and rain in the mountainous region from the town of Mazuco, in Madre de Dios department, to the city of Cusco.

It lost contact with its base in Hualla Hualla between the towns of Ocongate and Marcapata, near the snowcapped Apu Colque Cruz peak.

The wreckage was found near Mount Mamarosa, some 4,900 meters (16,000 feet) above sea level, Guevara said.

At mid-morning Saturday, a special eight-member police mountain patrol team charged with locating the wreckage reached the site where the Sikorsky S-58 ET plummeted to earth.

On board the flight were eight South Koreans, a Czech, a Swede, a Dutch citizen and three Peruvians, two of them crew members, according to helicopter owner HeliCusco. All were found dead, police said, giving no details on whether any of the victims survived the initial crash.

Police General Hector Dulanto earlier told AFP that it took the police mountain climbers seven hours to hike from their base camp to the crash site.

The second police team sent up on Sunday were to remove the bodies.

Driving rain and snow had hampered rescue efforts for days.

Aerial searches were called off soon after the helicopter was reported missing, and police determined that it would be safer to send a search team by land than risk another crash by sending aircraft in bad weather and into the high mountains where they could face strong cross-currents of wind.

Rescuers also feared that it would be hard to find the helicopter, which was painted white, from the air in the snow-covered area.

In Seoul, the foreign ministry said the South Koreans were engineers and officials from four South Korean companies on their way back to Cusco after conducting aerial surveillance on a possible site for a hydroelectric project near Puno, in southern Peru, close to the border with Bolivia.

Two officials from the South Korean embassy in Lima were in Cusco to monitor the search and rescue operations. -AFP