Nicaragua air force chiefs killed in helicopter crash

MANAGUA, Nicaragua – Senior members of Nicaragua’s Air Force were killed on Thursday when a helicopter crashed near Lake Managua, officials said.

Ten people died in the crash, including Air Force Chief of Staff Col. Manuel López, head of Air Force counterintelligence, Col. Chester Vargas, and air defense chief Lt. Col. Aldo Herrera, the Nicaraguan Army said in a statement.

The MI-17 helicopter went down after visiting the El Papalonal firing range in La Paz Centro, 52 kilometers northwest of Managua, the statement said.

The senior officers killed were mostly former Sandinista guerrillas who helped found Nicaragua’s modern military after the leftist revolutionaries triumphed in 1979 against the dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza.

The officers were returning to the capital when, soon after departing, the helicopter pilot made an emergency call to warn of unspecified flight difficulties, said Army spokesman Col. Orlando Palacios.

Early reports citing witnesses said that the helicopter caught fire and exploded during flight, plunging to earth from a height of some 1,500 meters.

Lower-ranking airmen also died in the crash, the Army statement said.

This story is developing. Follow www.ticotimes.net for updates.