'Bodies found' as Israeli helicopter crashes in Romania

Map of Romania

At least four bodies have been found after an Israeli helicopter with six Israeli soldiers and one Romanian on board crashed in Romania, reports say.

Romania's defence ministry said the CH-53 military transport helicopter came down near the central town of Zarnesti.

The head of mountain rescue in the Bran region told the Mediafax news agency the bodies were recovered at the site.

The Israeli military confirmed one of its aircraft had crashed, but did not say whether there had been fatalities.

"Extensive searches are currently taking place on the scene," it said. "The Israeli Air Force (IAF) is preparing for the departure of an airplane to Romania, carrying medical teams, research and rescue teams."

Difficult terrain

The Romanian defence ministry said contact had been lost with one of two IAF helicopters taking part in an exercise at around 1520 (1720 GMT) on Monday.

They were flying through a mountainous area in bad weather.

"At around 1545, search-and-rescue teams located the remains of the Israeli helicopter that was reported missing in the Fundata-Zarnesti area of Brasov County," the ministry said in a statement.

"Search teams on the ground are working to locate the members of the crew."

Israeli CH-53 helicopter picks up troops at Hatzerim air base (28 June 2010) There have been at least five recorded crashes by CH-53 helicopters in Israel

The ministry said the cause of the crash was still unknown, and that investigators had already been sent to the scene.

Mountain rescue officials said the helicopter had caught fire before losing altitude and crashing at an altitude of 2,246m (7,369ft) in the Carpathian Mountains. Witnesses also said they had seen smoke coming out of the aircraft.

On board were four IAF pilots, two aerial mechanics and a Romanian Air Force member - more than double the normal crew of three.

The Romanian and Israeli troops were taking part in Blue Sky 2010, an 11-day exercise in which they were practising flying at low altitude in difficult terrain for search-and-rescue missions and medical evacuations.

Earlier this month, Romania's defence ministry said an Israeli CH-53 had crash-landed during manoeuvres after "sensing a failure on board".

There have been at least five recorded crashes by CH-53 helicopters in Israel. The worst was in 1997, when two collided over the Israel-Lebanon border, killing all 73 military personnel on board.

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