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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Shoigu: Chopper Was Flying Dangerously Low

An Mi-8 helicopter that crashed last week in the Far East, killing all 20 people on board including the Sakhalin governor, was flying dangerously low in thick clouds, Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said Monday.

Shoigu said a preliminary investigation found that the helicopter crew deviated from its route and was flying much lower than it reported to flight controllers.

Shoigu, on a trip to Sakhalin Island, said in televised remarks that the helicopter flew 40 kilometers off of the designated flight route and entered heavy clouds.

Flight recorders found at the site of the crash in Kamchatka Peninsula revealed that the helicopter was just 13 meters from the ground when the pilot jerked its nose in an apparent attempt to avoid a close obstacle, Shoigu said at a news conference, Interfax reported.

The abrupt maneuver caused the helicopter's rotor blades to swing back, slicing its tail and causing the crash, said Shoigu, who was dispatched to investigate the crash by President Vladimir Putin.

Wednesday's crash killed Sakhalin Governor Igor Farkhutdinov and many of his administration's senior officials. The bodies of the victims were flown to Sakhalin on Monday, and three days of mourning started. The wreckage of the helicopter was found in a marshy field Saturday, three days after its last contact with air traffic controllers.

Shoigu said it was not immediately clear why pilots had deviated from the flight route and gave the wrong information to flight controllers.

Shoigu said the crash closely resembled another helicopter crash that killed Krasnoyarsk Governor Alexander Lebed in April 2002. Lebed was flying in the same type of helicopter in heavy snow at a low altitude, and the pilots performed the same type of maneuver when it hit power lines, Shoigu said.