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Quake relief helicopter missing

January 23, 2006

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ISLAMABAD, Jan 22: A helicopter chartered by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) for relief operations in Azad Kashmir has been missing for two days after taking off from Peshawar, the Red Cross said on Sunday. The Red Cross said the Turkmenistan Airlines helicopter had been engaged for air relief operations on October 23, last year, and its disappearance was “a matter of great concern”.

The Russian Mi-8 helicopter left Peshawar around noon local time on Jan 20 after refuelling and customs clearance.

According to the ICRC, it was scheduled to overfly Afghanistan on a direct flight to its home base in Turkmenabad. It made radio contact with Peshawar Air Traffic Control a few minutes later, reporting that it was about to leave the country’s air space.

Since then, there has been no contact with the helicopter or its seven-member Turkmen crew. Once the alert was sounded, major search operations were launched in Afghanistan.

The ICRC said that security forces had also initiated land and air search operations on the Pakistan side of the border.

The Red Cross said it had no information about what had happened to the helicopter and its crew. There were no ICRC staff aboard the helicopter.

AFP Adds: Nato and coalition forces in Afghanistan have called off a search for the missing Turkenistan Airlines helicopter.

The Nato peacekeeping force in Afghanistan dispatched “several” military helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft to search the mountainous border with Pakistan and with Turkmenistan, spokeswoman Annie Gibson-Sexton said.