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Rescuers find French helicopter wreckage

Video by Richard TOMPSETT

Latest update : 2009-01-18

The wreckage of a French helicopter that crashed on Saturday with 10 soldiers on board was found off the coast of Gabon on Sunday, a French military official said. Two soldiers died in the crash and six are still missing.

AFP - A French soldier injured in a military helicopter crash off the coast of Gabon died Sunday, bringing the death toll to two as rescuers kept up the search for six missing, the general staff said.

The Cougar transport helicopter was carrying 10 soldiers, including four crew members and six special forces paratroopers, when it went down in the sea shortly after take-off from the French seaplane carrier La Foudre on Saturday.

The ten were among some 600 soldiers taking part in a joint maritime security exercise called Operation N'Gari during which men were to be parachuted onto predetermined targets.

The soldier died in hospital in the Gabon capital of Libreville, said Lieutenant Colonel Francois-Marie Gougeon, spokesman for the general staff.

Another soldier suffered slight injuries and a fourth was rescued safe and sound.

Rescuers were trying to find survivors on Sunday off the coast of Nyonie, a town located half-way between Libreville and the port city of Port-Gentil, and divers were to be sent in to locate the wreckage.

President Nicolas Sarkozy ordered that "all available means in the area be immediately deployed to find the soldiers who were on board" and dispatched Defence Minister Herve Morin to Gabon.

There was no immediate information on the cause of the crash and the general staff said an enquiry would be carried out.

The helicopter went down at 8:08 pm (1908 GMT) shortly after taking off from La Foudre that was cruising 50 kilometres (30 miles) off the Gabonese coast, Gougeon said.

The ship "set off the alert and went to the scene of the crash with its own rescuers who picked up the injured within half an hour.

"The sea was calm and the wind low at the time of the crash but the night was very dark," he said.

Oil giant Total sent three vessels to help in the rescue effort.

France has around 1,000 troops in Gabon, a former French colony, with one of four permanent bases in Africa.

Date created : 2009-01-18

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