WASHINGTON (AFP/REUTERS) - A US Marine Corps helicopter carrying out earthquake relief in Nepal was reported missing on Tuesday with eight personnel on board, officials said. The chopper was carrying six US Marines and two soldiers from the Nepalese army, officials said.
“The incident occurred near Charikot, Nepal while the aircraft was conducting humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations,” said Major Dave Eastburn, spokesman for US Pacific Command. The UH-1Y Huey had just dropped off supplies and was headed to another destination, officials said.
The US Pacific Command spokesman, Major Dave Eastburn, told reporters the disappearance of the UH-1Y Huey helicopter occurred at about 10pm local time on Tuesday, while the helicopter was involved in offering earthquake relief.
Before the chopper went missing, there was “some chatter about a fuel problem” on the radio from the helicopter crew, Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steven Warren said.
Col Warren said it was not clear whether the helicopter might have been low on fuel or if there was a problem with its fuel lines.
“The UH-1 had launched to deliver tarps and rice,” he said. “Because of the terrain (it) had not been in contact for approximately two hours."
The Huey helicopter was last seen west of Charikot but a search of the area was unsuccessful.
A search by US aircraft before nightfall had not spotted any sign of smoke or any crash site, raising hopes the helicopter may have made a safe emergency landing, he said.
The Nepalese army was conducting a search on the ground but no aircraft could fly until daylight to look for the crew.
Col Warren said Marine Brigadier General Paul Kennedy, deputy commander of the III Marine Expeditionary Force, was directing the rescue effort. US Air Force pararescue forces, who could be air-dropped into the area, had rehearsed and were available if needed, he said.
A Nepalese air brigade reported seeing the US helicopter at a location some 65km east of the capital Kathmandu, but the three aircraft sent to search the area did not spot it during the hunt before dark, Col Warren said, adding that “no emergency beacon has been detected at this time” from the helicopter crew.
Due to the rugged, mountainous terrain, even if a beacon signal was switched on it might not be picked up easily as it requires a clear line of sight, he added.
About 300 US military troops have deployed to support the relief effort in Nepal, where aftershocks continue to claim lives after last month’s massive quake.
A new earthquake and powerful aftershocks killed dozens of people and brought fresh terror to Nepal on Tuesday.
The 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.
Relief teams from around the world are still working to provide water, food and medical assistance to Nepalis after the April 25 quake – the country’s deadliest in more than 80 years.