Agency Says Helicopter Crashed on Illegal Hunt

The Federal Air Transport Agency has said in an internal telegram that a hunting expedition comprised of senior government officials was hunting illegally from a helicopter last month when the aircraft crashed in the Altai region, killing seven.

The Jan. 19 telegram, excerpts of which were published Monday in Izvestia, is the first official confirmation that the passengers were shooting from the air, a criminal offense in Russia.

The telegram confirms earlier speculation that the helicopter crashed as the pilot was trying to land in order to recover the carcass of a wild animal shot from the aircraft.

Federal Air Transport Agency spokesman Sergei Izvolsky confirmed Monday that the telegram was genuine but said the internal correspondence was illegally leaked to newspapers.

The telegram calls for the heads of all airlines to tighten control over flights for private clients. The official aim of the Jan. 9 flight in the Altai region was aerial surveying, but "what in fact took place was shooting animals from the helicopter," the telegram says.

The helicopter hovered "unacceptably low," and then passengers "began to look for and shoot wild animals from the ground and from the helicopter," the telegram said. "As the helicopter went down to collect another shot animal, it hit the mountainside."

The helicopter was carrying the bodies of two animals that had been shot and killed, the telegram says.

Among those killed when the Mi-171 helicopter crashed was Alexander Kosopkin, President Dmitry Medvedev's envoy to the State Duma.

A photograph of the crash site subsequently published by the web site Altapress.ru showed carcasses of what conservationists said were endangered argali sheep lying next to the helicopter.

Altapress.ru on Monday published a scanned copy of the internal telegram stating that the officials were hunting illegally.

The telegram says the helicopter was being flown not by the surviving pilot, Maxim Kolbin, but by a passenger, a local helicopter commander, Vladimir Podoprigora, who died in the crash.