KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan — Sixteen people died and another five were injured Sunday when a civilian helicopter crashed upon takeoff at NATO’s largest air base in southern Afghanistan, according to officials.
The crash occurred at about 11:50 a.m. local time. The cause of the crash was unknown, but it was not shot down and there were no military personnel among the dead and wounded, said Squadron Leader Keith Cranswick, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force.
Further details remained sketchy, but "what we do know is that it was not a result of insurgent activity," Cranswick said.
The Associated Press, quoting the Russian news agency Interfax, identified the helicopter as an Mi-8, owned by the Russian air company Vertikal-T. Interfax said there were 20 people aboard the aircraft and that the survivors included three crewmembers and two passengers. The discrepancy between the two death counts could not be immediately explained.
The Russian news agencies initially reported that 15 people had died and two had survived, according to the AP.
Russian-made helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft with civilian crews from the former Soviet bloc are used frequently to ferry supplies — and civilian contractors — around Afghanistan in support of the NATO-led mission.
The crash is the latest in a string of aviation mishaps to occur in Afghanistan in the past week.
A U.S. Army helicopter made an emergency landing Sunday in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province, according to the U.S. military in Kabul. There was no enemy activity in the area at the time, and the incident is under investigation, a statement by U.S. Forces Afghanistan said.
No information was provided on the number of people aboard the aircraft or the extent of injuries. But all were transported to a medical facility for further treatment, the statement said.
Two airmen were killed early Saturday when an F-15 fighter jet crashed in eastern Afghanistan. There was no hostile fire, but why the jet went down is unknown, and the cause is under investigation, the U.S. military said.
Eight Ukrainian crewmembers were killed last week when their Mi-26 civilian helicopter crashed near the town of Sangin in southern Afghanistan’s Helmand province. The aircraft was under civilian contract to ferry humanitarian aid, according to reports last week.
The Taliban claimed to have shot down the helicopter with anti-aircraft fire, but NATO officials in Kabul have not confirmed the cause and say that incident is also under investigation.
Earlier this month, two Canadian and one British soldier were killed in a helicopter crash in Zabul province. The crash did not appear to be the result of hostile fire, officials have said.