5 dead after police helicopter crashes in Venezuela while chasing kidnappers

CARACAS (AFP) - A Venezuelan police helicopter crashed on Thursday while chasing a car in which kidnappers were holding hostages, and all five people aboard the aircraft died, the police chief said.

Police officers on the ground later engaged the two kidnappers, killing one and freeing the two captives, both of whom are engineers.

Police chief Luis Karabin blamed the weather for the early morning crash on the outskirts of Caracas.

Venezuelan TV broadcast footage of the site, with thick columns of smoke rising from scrubland beside the highway where the chopper went down.

Before joining the chase, the helicopter had been on a surveillance mission as part of a new anti-crime initiative launched by President Nicolas Maduro, who was elected in April to succeed the late Mr Hugo Chavez.

Kidnapping for ransom and other violent crime is rampant in Venezuela.

There are no official figures on abductions but a non-governmental organisation called the Venezuelan Violence Observatory estimates there are more than 1,000 per year.

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