Mongolia to observe national day of mourning for 15 helicopter crash victims

Mongolia to observe national day ofmourning for 15 helicopter crash victims

21 June 2007

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Ulan Bator, Mongolia — Mongolia will ban all sports and entertainment eventsin a national day of mourning for 15 people killed in a helicopter crash, thegovernment announced Thursday, as opposition lawmakers called for threeofficials connected to the accident to resign.

The Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter had been taking firefighters and equipmentto a forest fire when it disappeared from radar screens on June 13.

Victims’ relatives complained to reporters that the government did not launcha search for two days, and the helicopter was not found until three days afterthe crash.

The opposition Civil Courage party issued a statement Wednesday calling forthe immediate resignation of Emergency Minister S. Otgonbayar, TransportationMinister Tsengel and Deputy Prime Minister M. Enkhsaikhan. The officials, whowere in charge of the firefighters, helicopter and rescue efforts, have notissued a response.

Media reports have claimed that the firefighters were not properly equippedand could not send out a distress signal after the crash.

Authorities have not said what caused the crash, the response to whichtriggered public outrage.

Fourteen people aboard — firefighters, emergency officials, and two pilots— died before rescuers reached them, government spokesman Batbaatar, who likemany Mongolians uses only one name, told reporters.

Another pilot died Tuesday in a hospital, and the seven survivors wererecovering from injuries, including broken bones and frostbite.

The 15 victims were set to be buried Friday and the country will observe aday of mourning, Parliament announced. Flags will be flown at half-staff,government employees will observe a minute of silence and all sports andentertainment events will be banned.

One firefighter who survived the crash said he lost consciousness when thehelicopter plunged into a forest and found himself thrown from the aircraft.Sukhbaatar, interviewed at the hospital where he is recovering, said he was ableto crawl, prepare food and make tea using water collected on parachutes.

“During the night, it was cold and we covered ourselves with parachutes,”he said. “During the day, we spread out the parachutes and made signs tohelp rescuers to find us.”

President Nambaryn Enkhbayar said it was important to determine what “irresponsibleactions” contributed to the crash and slow rescue response, and questionedthe logic of sending so many firefighters to the blaze when rain in the areamight have extinguished it.

The Mongolian government no longer has any working helicopters, Batbaatarsaid. The government’s other helicopter was damaged during a Parliament member’sfox hunt.

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