U.N Chopper Crashes in Nepal, 10 Dead

A United Nations helicopter crashed Monday while flying in bad weather in Nepal's mountainous east, killing at least 10 people, officials said.

Home Ministry spokesman Modraj Dotel confirmed the helicopter was carrying U.N. personnel. Mohan Adhikari, chief of the air rescue unit at Katmandu airport, said rescuers have pulled 10 bodies from the wreckage but still did not know how many people were on board.

"We have conflicting reports that there were either 11 or 15 people on board but even the U.N. representatives are not sure how many were there on the helicopter," Adhikari said.

Villagers saw a ball of fire after the helicopter crashed on a mountain near Bethani, a village about 125 miles east of Katmandu, police official Chinu Acharya said by telephone.

Sudden rain on Monday forced the cancellation of many scheduled commercial flights and prevented rescue helicopters from reaching the crash site.

Flying in bad weather is often difficult in Nepal, which is mostly covered by mountainous terrain. Pilots often use their vision to navigate through the mountains and depend less on instruments.

The United Nations has been helping Nepal's peace process since 2006, when communist rebels gave up their armed revolt and joined mainstream politics. The rebels confined their combatants and weapons in camps under the supervision of U.N. arms monitors.

APTV 03-03-08 0752EST