Nepal army finds wreckage of missing US chopper

KATHMANDU - The wreckage of a US military helicopter that went missing with eight people on board while delivering aid in quake-hit Nepal has been found near the Chinese border, the Nepalese army said Friday.

Major General Binoj Basnet said the helicopter, which disappeared on Tuesday, had been spotted from the air in a remote forest around 70 kilometres (40 miles) northeast of Kathmandu.

"We don't know if there are any survivors, we have yet to confirm that," Basnet told AFP by telephone.

"We have sighted the wreckage from the air, we are now trying to land in the area and get more information." Basnet said strong winds were making it difficult to land in the mountainous region where the wreckage had been sighted.

"It's a difficult area to land in... We have sent ground troops to the site as well, they should arrive within an hour or so," he added.

Army helicopters and hundreds of US and Nepalese ground troops had been deployed to scour the mountainous terrain where the US chopper disappeared on the same day a second major earthquake hit the country.

The US military said earlier that the UH-1Y Huey was carrying six US Marines and two soldiers from the Nepalese army when it went missing during a relief flight in the mountainous east of the country.

Relief teams from around the world have been working for weeks to provide water, food, shelter and medical assistance to Nepal after the first, 7.8-magnitude quake hit on April 25.

Nearly 8,500 people have now been confirmed dead in the disaster, which destroyed more than half a million homes and left huge numbers of people without shelter with just weeks to go until the monsoon rains.

The missing helicopter was among more than a dozen US military aircraft devoted to aid operations, including two other Huey choppers and four tilt-rotor Ospreys as well as cargo planes.

Before it went missing, there was "some chatter about a fuel problem" on the radio from the helicopter crew, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said on Tuesday.

The United Nations has said it faces a "monumental challenge" to bring relief to victims, many of whom live in areas accessible only on foot or by helicopter.

The Nepalese government has said it was overwhelmed by the scale of the April 25 disaster, the deadliest earthquake to hit the country in more than 80 years.

The challenge was compounded by Tuesday's quake, which was centred in the remote eastern district of Dolakha and triggered multiple landslides.

The death toll from that quake rose to 117 overnight, but a Dolakha government official said bodies were still being retrieved from under the debris on Friday.

"We have been struggling to reach certain places because of road blockages and disruptions to communications," assistant chief district officer Aaulakh Bahadur Ale told AFP by telephone.

"Over 200,000 people are homeless here, we are working to provide alternative accommodation for them.