US helicopter destroyed, no survivors: Nepal defence ministry

KATHMANDU (REUTERS) - A United States Marines helicopter that crashed into a mountainside in Nepal was completely destroyed and there were no survivors among the eight on board, Nepal's top defence official said on Friday.

Three charred bodies were found in the wreckage of the UH-1Y Huey that went missing on Tuesday while on a mission to deliver aid to victims of two earthquakes, Defence Secretary Ishwori Prasad Paudyal told Reuters.

"The search for others is continuing. As the helicopter has broken into pieces and totally crashed there is no chance of any survivors," said Paudyal, the ministry's top civil servant.

The Marine Corps UH-1Y Huey was spotted near the village of Ghorthali at an altitude of 3,400m, an army general told Reuters earlier, as helicopters and Nepali ground troops converged on the crash site.

"It was found on a steep slope," Major General Binoj Basnet said. "Based on information from the Nepali army, the site has been spotted."

US Pacific Command said a Nepali search team had identified possible wreckage of a downed aircraft approximately 24 km north of the town of Charikot, which lies half a day's drive to the east of the capital Kathmandu.

A US team was at the scene "to assess the wreckage and determine if it is the downed UH-1Y Huey", Army Major Dave Eastburn, US Pacific Command spokesman, said in a statement issued to Reuters.

A first earthquake that struck Nepal on April 25 with a magnitude of 7.8 has killed 8,199 people.

The death toll from a 7.3 aftershock on Tuesday has reached 117, with many victims in the Dolakha district where the US chopper was lost on the same day.

The combined toll is approaching the number of just over 8,500 who died in an earthquake in 1934, the worst ever natural disaster to hit the poor Himalayan nation.

Some 76,000 more have been hurt while hundreds of thousands of buildings - including ancient temples and monuments - have been damaged or destroyed. Nearly three weeks after the first quake, aftershocks continue to rattle the country.

Nepal mobilised 600 soldiers to search for the Huey, which had six Marines and two Nepali soldiers on board when it went missing after the crew was heard over the radio saying that the aircraft was experiencing a fuel problem.

Two more US Hueys, two MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor planes and Nepali and Indian choppers had been involved in the search for the helicopter, which was part of a joint task force sent in by the United States to provide assistance at Nepal's request.

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