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Helicopter carrying Turks forced down in Taliban-held Afghan east

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 22 Apr 2013 08:51 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Adds confirmation of Russian pilot and comments from Turkish official)

GARDEZ, Afghanistan, April 22 (Reuters) - A helicopter carrying eight Turks and a Russian made an emergency landing in a Taliban-controlled area of eastern Afghanistan, officials said on Monday, and it was possible they were being held by insurgents.

The helicopter, owned by air charter company Khorasan Cargo Airlines, made an emergency landing in Logar province late on Sunday due to bad weather, a Khorasan staff member said on condition of anonymity.

"The helicopter was carrying eight Turks, the pilots were Russian and Afghan. We believe they are in good health and Turkish officials are in contact with Afghan officials over the issue," Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Levent Gumrukcu said.

The spokesman said the passengers and pilots were in good health.

A spokesman for the Russian embassy in Kabul confirmed at least one of the two foreign pilots was a Russian citizen.

Officials in Logar province said it was likely the group was now in the hands of the Taliban. The helicopter landed in Logar's eastern-most district, Azra, which borders Pakistan and is a hotbed of Taliban activity.

The company spoke to the pilots on Sunday afternoon but had heard nothing from them since, the staff member said.

Rais Khan Sadiq, a senior Logar police detective, said he believed insurgents had captured all those on board but was unable to confirm that immediately.

A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said a helicopter had come down in eastern Afghanistan but was unable to provide more details.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid told Reuters by telephone from an undisclosed location that he could not yet confirm if insurgents were holding the group.

Helicopter crashes and "hard landings" happen relatively frequently in mountainous Afghanistan.

In August 2011, 30 U.S. special forces soldiers, seven Afghans and an interpreter were killed when a Chinook transport helicopter was shot down, the deadliest single incident for foreign troops in more than a decade of war.

Khorasan flies Russian Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters as well as fixed-wing aircraft in Afghanistan. They offer troops and cargo transportation as well as medivac and civilian transportation services. (Reporting by Samiullah Paiwand; Writing by Dylan Welch and Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Paul Tait and Ken Wills)

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