Fifteen survive Russian helicopter crash-landing

Fifteen survive Russian helicopter crash-landing
A picture taken in Liberia's capital Monrovia, on July 7, 2003, shows a Russian-built MI-8 helicopter taking off inside the US embassy enclosure.

MOSCOW - All 15 helicopter passengers and crew survived a close brush with death on Monday when their aircraft crash-landed in woods in the Russian Far East, a rare happy ending for a country prone to aviation disasters.

The Mi-8 helicopter, which carried forest firefighters and was conducting aerial reconnaissance, landed near the village of Chekunda in the Khabarovsk region, the Federal Forestry Agency said.

A senior emergencies ministry official, Vitaly Darchy, said the helicopter managed to land but "was damaged by a forest fire", forcing its passengers and crew to abandon the helicopter.

All of them escaped with "minor injuries," the foreign ministry said.

Officials had said earlier said the helicopter carried 14 people.

A spokeswoman for regional investigators, Oxana Polshakova, had earlier reported that the helicopter had crashed and burned, and that a team of investigators went to the site.

Deadly aviation disasters are common in Russia, often blamed on ageing aircraft and poor maintenance.

Aviation experts say the Soviet-era Mi-8 has an especially poor safety record.

On June 1, a Mi-8 helicopter carrying 18 people crashed into a lake in northern Russia, killing all but two of the passengers.

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