Survivors 'unlikely' in Nepal chopper crash: US military

A photo taken on May 3, 2015, shows the crew of a US C-17 military transport plane unloading a Huey helicopter at Kathmandu's international airport in Kathmandu. The US military said Friday it did not expect to find any survivors after locating
A photo taken on May 3, 2015, shows the crew of a US C-17 military transport plane unloading a Huey helicopter at Kathmandu's international airport in Kathmandu. The US military said Friday it did not expect to find any survivors after locating the wreckage of a helicopter that went missing with eight people on board in earthquake-devastated Nepal. -- PHOTO: AFP

KATHMANDU (AFP) - The US military said Friday it did not expect to find any survivors after locating the wreckage of a helicopter that went missing with eight people on board in earthquake-devastated Nepal.

"I can confirm that we have located the wreckage... it is unlikely there are any survivors," said John Wissler, commander of the joint task force investigating the disappearance, three days after the chopper vanished while delivering aid in a mountainous region.

"It was a severe crash," said Wissler.

The crashed aircraft was spotted in a remote forest around 70km north-east of Kathmandu, according to Nepalese army official Major-General Binoj Basnet.

Basnet told AFP troops had reached the crash site on foot and two choppers, including a US military helicopter, had managed to land in the mountainous region after strong winds had kept them circling the wreckage.

Nepal's Defence Secretary Ishwori Paudel earlier told AFP that three charred bodies had been discovered in the wreckage, but US military officials said they could not confirm the findings.

"We have not been able to positively identify any remains at the site," Wissler told reporters in Kathmandu, adding that recovery operations would resume Saturday after being called off due to heavy thunderstorms.

"At this time I am not able to positively identify the cause of the mishap."

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 that a second major earthquake hit the country.

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

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.

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.

UN WARNING

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.

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.

Jamie McGoldrick, UN humanitarian coordinator for Nepal, warned Friday of "more deaths" to come in quake-hit regions, unless donors dramatically ramp up aid contributions, which currently stand at US$59.5 million (S$78.4 million), or 14 per cent, of the US$423 million appeal launched on 29 April.

"If we don't act quickly, the implications will be severe," McGoldrick said in a press release.

"We can only expect misery, a crippling loss of dignity and the real potential for more deaths especially in the rural and remote areas."

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.