6 Americans among 8 dead in Sinai helicopter crash: peacekeeping force

Cairo (AFP) –


A helicopter crash in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula involving a multi-national observer force killed eight people on Thursday -- six Americans, a French national and a Czech citizen, the force said.

"During a routine mission in the vicinity of Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, nine members of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) were involved in a helicopter crash," it said in a statement posted on its website.

"We are deeply saddened to report that eight uniformed MFO members were killed; six US citizens, one French, and one Czech," it added.

Another member of the force, an American, survived and was medically evacuated, the MFO added.

"An IDF (Israeli Defence Forces) helicopter carrying elite search and rescue soldiers... evacuated an injured American MFO peacekeeper to an Israeli hospital for medical treatment," the Israeli army said.

The peacekeeping force was set up by Israel and Egypt to supervise parts of their 1979 historic peace treaty after the United Nations did not approve a peacekeeping force for the Sinai.

The force was established as an alternative to a UN mission, but has consistently had significant international backing, notably from the United States.

Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi sent his condolences to the families of the victims on Thursday in a tweet posted by a spokesperson, stressing that "security and stability in the region is extremely important".

- 'Condolences' -

Egypt's Sinai Peninsula is facing a hardened insurgency affiliated with the Islamic State group in the north of the restive region while the south boasts touristic resort towns by the Red Sea, near where the crash happened.

Egyptian officials from the South Sinai governor's office would not provide further details to AFP on the exact crash site, nor would the MFO.

The country's military spokesperson also could not be reached.

In February 2018, security forces launched a nationwide operation against militants, focused on North Sinai.

More than 930 suspected militants have been killed in the region along with dozens of security personnel, according to official figures.

No independently verified death toll is available and the region is largely cut off to journalists.

The multi-national force said in its statement that it would conduct an investigation to determine the cause of the accident.

"At this point, there is no information to indicate the crash was anything except an accident," the MFO said.

The Czech army said in a statement that "the cause of the crash was a technical defect", identifying the Czech victim as sergeant Michaela Ticha, born in 1993.

"I am terribly sorry. You can never get ready for some things. Condolences to her family," tweeted Czech chief-of-staff, Ales Opata.

The MFO currently has more than 1,100 troops, including from Australia, the United States, Canada and France, and receives funding from Egypt, Israel and the US.

The force's website lists only one French member in its contingent, a liaison officer.