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Remembering tragic MI-8 crashes

By E.DARI

Since, 2000 four accidents involving MI-8 helicopters have occurred in Mongolia. On January 14, 2001, the first fatal crash of an MI-8 occured in Malchin soum of Uvs Province.
An MI-8 helicopter carrying Mongolian government officials, United Nations staff, journalists and the flight crew on their way to assess damages and disaster due to winter drought in Uvs Province crashed tragically. They had planned to return to Ulaanbaatar after a day, but they never returned. They were on an official humanitarian mission to determine how the world could help the many Mongolians affected by the dzud of 2001.
The crew departed from Ulaangom on the morning of January 14 and tried to land on the winter grazing land of herder Zandan, which was located at the base of Bayankhairkhan Mountain, 2,275 meters above sea level, and 15 kilometers southeast of Malchin soum, Uvs Province.
Unfortunately, because of limited visibility, the pilot lost sight of his planned landing, which led to a crash landing. Nine people tragically lost their lives: Shagdar Otgonbileg, Member of Parliament of Mongolia; Sabine Metzner-Strack from Germany, United Nations Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team leader and head of the Asia & Pacific Desk Disaster Response Branch in OCHA; Gerard Le Claire from Jersey, United Kingdom, UNDAC team member and Director of Environmental Services of the States of Jersey Planning & Environmental Department; Matthew Girvin from the United States of America, Program Officer of the UNICEF office in Mongolia; Batchuluun Bayarmaa from Mongolia, Program Officer of the UNFPA office in Mongolia; Tsevegmid Batzorig, photographer from Mongolia’s Gamma Agency; Takahiro Kato, reporter for NHK Japan; Minoru Masaki, cameraman for NHK Japan; and Dashdavaa Otgon, the helicopter’s technician.
Only memorial sculptures are left to remember them. On July 21, a 2.5 meter marble sculpture was built close to the accident site. The sculpture is carved with the words “On January 14, 2001 humanitarian mission people were lost. They won’t ever be forgotten.” The names of deceased are also on the sculpture. The Bayarmaa Foundation, named after B.Bayarmaa, was established and a monument dedicated to Sh.Otgonbileg was built in Erdenet City.
The friends and family of Gerard Le Claire, established the Gerard Le Claire Environmental Trust. The tragic accident, which took the lives of nine, caused damages totaling 373.5 billion MNT.
On February 27, 2007, an MI-8 helicopter owned by Military Unit no. 303 of the Mongolian Armed Forces, which carried MP Ts. Bataa, crashed in Bornuur soum, Tuv aimag – almost 100 kilometers northwest of Ulaanbaatar. According to media reports, the information obtained from the black box indicates that no one was to be blamed for the incident, and that the crash was caused by bad weather conditions. It has since been determined, however, that Bataa diverted from the initial itinerary to hunt a fox. Bataa’s decision was approved by Minister of Defense M. Sonompil. The Government has not stated its position regarding the incident and it is not clear whether anyone will ever be held accountable for the crash. Fortunately, there were no casualties. The accident destroyed the Mongolian Ministry of Defense’s only MI-8 helicopter.
Another 2007 crash was a deep tragedy for Mongolian people. On July 14, 2007, a Russian-made MI-8 helicopter on a firefighting mission crashed in northern Mongolia, killing 15 people and critically injuring four of the eight survivors.
The helicopter crashed into a forest glade on and split in two on impact.
Search and rescue operations were hampered by rain and fog, delaying first confirmation of the crash for three days. The survivors, between the ages of 20 and 59, suffered burns, broken bones and exposure. They had to walk several kilometers to reach a rescue helicopter, which had been unable to get closer to the crash site. The injured arrived in Ulaanbaatar for treatment two days later. Relatives of the passengers complained that the helicopter had been ordered to fly in bad weather, allegations that the government denied.

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