Monday, April 9, 2012

Helicopter crash kills 6 foreigners in Niger desert

Four Chinese employees from state oil firm CNPC and two French crew members were killed in a helicopter crash in Niger's Tenere desert, two Nigerien security sources said on Monday.

Cash-strapped Niger began producing oil last year from its remote Agadem oil block, some 1,500 km (930 miles) east of the capital, in a $5 billion deal with China's CNPC.

"We found the remains of the private helicopter that went missing when it flew over the desert, and all the occupants - the four Chinese and the two French crew members - were killed," a military officer said.

A second officer said the helicopter had taken off from CNPC's Agadem oil block in eastern Niger, heading towards the town of Fachi on Friday but never reached its destination.

CNPC has an exploration license in Fachi but there was no immediate comment from the company.

"The army launched air and land rescue missions as soon as (the helicopter) was reported missing ... we don't know the reason for the crash," the second soldier, who also asked not to be named, told Reuters.

(Reporting by Abdoulaye Massalatchi; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)

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