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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

18 Killed in Mi-8 Crash In Chechnya

An Mi-8 military helicopter crashed in Chechnya on Friday, killing all 18 people aboard, emergency officials said. There were conflicting reports about whether the craft was shot down.

The helicopter went down while flying to southern Chechnya as part of an operation against militants, an official at the regional branch of the Emergency Situations Ministry said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to give his name to the media.

He said preliminary indications were that the helicopter -- carrying 15 paratroopers and a crew of three -- was shot down, but a ministry duty officer in the region later called the crash an accident, saying a rotor blade had struck something during an attempt to land.

An Air Force spokesman in Moscow confirmed that a helicopter crashed in Chechnya, but declined to give details.

The loss of life would be the largest for federal forces in a single incident in many months in Chechnya, the site of two devastating wars since 1994 pitting federal forces against separatist rebels.

The emergency official said the helicopter was one of three that was flying toward an area in southern Chechnya where a group of suspected militants had been spotted.

The Air Force confirmed that the aircraft had come down but said nothing about the cause. "At 11:34 while carrying out a mission to transport troops to the south of Shatoi there was an emergency situation that involved a Mi-8 helicopter coming down," it said in a statement.

Itar-Tass quoted an unidentified law enforcement official as saying three militants were believed to have been killed in fighting in the area.

The biggest loss of life sustained by federal and Chechen forces last year was when seven troops were killed during an operation near Shatoi.

In the country's worst military aviation catastrophe, an overcrowded Mi-26 helicopter was shot down by a shoulder-fired missile as it prepared to land at Khankala, near Grozny, in August 2002, killing 127 people. AP, Reuters