President's Envoy Killed in Air Crash

Itar-TassAlexander Kosopkin, the Kremlin's representative to the State Duma, gesturing in his Moscow office in 2004. ��
The Kremlin's envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin, and six other people died when their helicopter crashed during a hunting trip in the Altai region, officials said Sunday.

Rescuers located the Mi-171 helicopter on Sunday afternoon, two days after it crashed. Four injured survivors were rushed to the hospital.

One of the survivors, senior Altai official Anatoly Bannykh, said the helicopter's engine had failed.

"After that, the pilots lost control and the craft fell to the ground," Bannykh said, RIA-Novosti reported. He escaped with minor injuries.

The helicopter took off with eight passengers and three crew members from the Altai regional town of Biisk at 8:30 a.m. Friday and failed to contact dispatchers as planned at 2 p.m. when it was scheduled to land in the village of Kosh-Agach, 500 kilometers away, Altai government spokeswoman Yelena Kobzoyeva said.

Half an hour later, the first search plane was sent to look for the helicopter, she said.

The wreckage of the white-and-blue helicopter was located at 3:35 p.m. Sunday in snowy mountainous terrain, RIA-Novosti reported.

Twelve planes and 227 people combed Altai during the two-day search for the helicopter, Emergency Situations Ministry spokeswoman Veronika Smolskaya said.

Investigators have opened a criminal case to check whether safety violations had caused the crash, the Investigative Committee said on its web site.

Kosopkin, 51, had served as the presidential envoy to the Duma since 2004 and in the presidential administration since 1994, the Kremlin said on its web site.

Duma Speaker Boris Gryzlov expressed his condolences to Kosopkin's widow and two children. "For many of us, he was a personal friend," Gryzlov said, Interfax reported.

Also killed were Sergei Livishin, a senior member of the presidential staff; Viktor Kaymin, a senior Altai environmental official; Gorno-Altaisk aircraft division head Vladimir Podoprigora; Vasily Vyalkov, the frontman of the regional band Armanka; and helicopter pilots Alexei Bayandin and Alexander Vertei, officials said.

Two passengers were seriously injured -- Nikolai Kopranov, an adviser to the Duma's Economic Policy Committee, and Boris Belinsky, a Moscow entrepreneur, Smolskaya said.

Bannyh and the third pilot, Maxim Kolbin, were "in satisfactory condition," she said. The survivors were hospitalized in the regional capital Barnaul, Smolskaya said.

The purpose for the flight was a hunting trip, Kobzoyeva said.

Helicopter crashes have claimed the lives of several notable people in recent years. In 2002, a Mi-8 crash killed Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Lebed and seven other people. In 2000, world-famous eye surgeon Svyatoslav Fyodorov died in a Mi-8 crash.