Russia outraged by Chechnya crash


http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/2204505.stm



The Russian military has come under heavy criticism

over a helicopter crash in Chechnya on Monday in which

105 people are reported to have died and 33 people

were injured. 

 

A Russian investigation team which has arrived at the

scene of the crash near the Chechen capital, Grozny,

says it is open-minded about the causes of the crash. 



But there is public scepticism about the authorities'

handling of the incident, and a consensus is growing

that the huge Mi-26 was shot down by a rebel missile. 



Russian newspapers have voiced anger at apparent

attempts by the authorities to conceal events

surrounding the crash - the seventh of its kind in

recent months - and have accused the military of gross

negligence. 



The reports suggest this may be the biggest single

loss the Russian army has suffered in the three-year

Chechen war. 



Rocket attack 



The inquiry team is investigating two theories - that

the helicopter was brought down by a missile, or that

it crashed due to a technical function. 



---------------------------------------------

Helicopter crashes in Chechnya  

Feb 2002 - Eight killed 

Jan 2002 - 14 senior Russian officials killed 

Sept 2001 - 10 passengers and three crew killed 

Aug 2001 - two killed 

July 2001 - nine troops killed 

Feb 2000 - 15 killed  

--------------------------------------------



Chechen rebels are maintaining that they shot the

helicopter down. The separatist news agency Kavkaz

Centre described the crash as the "greatest act of

sabotage by Chechen fighters in two years". 



And more and more witness reports are emerging to

support their claim. 



Prior to crash-landing metres away from the Khankala

army base, the pilot reported a loud bang in the right

engine and a fire. 



Officers at the base where the helicopter was headed

have said they saw a small rocket following the

helicopter. 



Local residents have made similar claims.



The pilots of a smaller helicopter, which was

following the Mi-26, also say they saw rocket traces

going towards the larger aircraft. 



And survivors have also spoken of a missile hit. 



But the BBC's Nikolai Gorshkov in Moscow says the

Russian military command is reluctant to accept this

theory, because it will mean a major embarrassment for

the generals who have long claimed that the rebels

were all but crushed. 



Media anger 



Our correspondent says the military's handling of the

crash is reminiscent of its response to the Kursk

nuclear submarine disaster two years ago. 



And there has been similar media criticism of the

armed forces, voicing anger at an apparent cover-up

attempt. 



The Izvestiya newspaper says the military are "as

usual" trying to conceal the number of dead and

wounded. 



And Vremya Novostey says if rebel action is found to

have brought down the helicopter, it will lead to

"organisational conclusions about the military

command". 



There has also been strong criticism of the frequent

overloading of the helicopters, beyond the proper

85-passenger capacity. 



"The Mi-26 often flies to Khankala with 100-110 people

on board, plus a huge amount of cargo, including cheap

Ossetian vodka," writes Kommersant. 



Other commentators have pointed out that the Mi-26,

a huge and slow-flying machine, nicknamed "the cow",

is an ideal target for the rebels. 



The crash follows a surge in rebel action, including

attacks late last week which killed nine servicemen

and five civilians. 



The war in Chechnya has been going on for nearly three

years, but the Russian Government maintains that only

isolated groups of rebels are holding out against

federal forces.





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