Bodies of crew from crashed rescue helicopter cremated

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 June, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 June, 2008, 12:00am

The bodies of five crew members from a downed military helicopter were cremated in Chengdu yesterday after they were recovered from the remote crash site.

Paramilitary soldiers trekked for two days and a night to reach the site and take the bodies to Yingxiu town, 75km away, before the remains were sent on to Chengdu, each draped in a national flag.

The Russian-designed Mi-171 transport helicopter crashed on May 31 in Wenchuan county, Sichuan , while evacuating quake victims.

Five crew members and 13 civilians, including injured quake survivors, were aboard.

Fog, wind shear and strong turbulence were blamed for the crash.

Thousands of solders, police, paramilitary personnel and villagers were mobilised for the rescue. The wreckage and the black box were found on Tuesday.

The bodies of the crew were relayed by 96 members of a paramilitary team who trekked from Wednesday to get them out, according to a military source.

State media said the aircraft had crashed into a cliff.

The helicopter smashed into five parts and the wreckage was scattered across the brush-covered terrain.

A big burn mark was visible on the cliff near where the wreckage was found, according to the source.

'I'm not an expert, but it appeared the helicopter would have missed the cliff if it had gone up 60 to 70 metres,' a rescue squad member said.

He said only the captain, Qiu Guanghua , could be identified on the spot because he was wearing a badge and carrying a wallet with a picture of his son.

Qiu, 51, who was due to retire in 11 months, had volunteered to fly on relief missions after the May 12 quake. He and his colleagues worked eight to 12 hours a day, carrying rescue teams and ferrying survivors to medical treatment, according to state media.

The crash spot was 2,800 metres above sea level and could be reached only after crossing 11 mountains. The team had to carry the bodies out by foot because the site was inaccessible to helicopters and vehicles.

The source said all 18 bodies, including that of a little girl, had been located, but technical problems meant the team could bring only the crew members' remains out for now. The team members completed the mission equipped with nothing more than raincoats, biscuits and some water.

The squad member said: 'The road is very difficult because of the rain and landslides.

'We were exhausted because we didn't have a tent and couldn't rest well. We weren't able to take all the bodies out.'

By yesterday afternoon, the helicopter wreckage was still lying at the site and taking it out was proving a logistical challenge.

At a glance

69,163 confirmed dead

17,445 missing

374,142 injured

45.5b yuan in donations received from home and abroad

Source: Xinhua