Army helicopter crashes in northern Colombia

None of the passengers survived, the military has said

Nine members of Colombia’s military were killed when a helicopter crashed in a rural area in the northern part of the country on Monday, according to the nation’s armed forces.

The MI-17 Russian-made chopper crashed while delivering supplies for soldiers to the municipality of Santa Rosa del Sur, Bolivar Department, on the Caribbean coast, the Colombian military said.

The region has recently seen fighting between the National Liberation Army guerrilla group and the drug trafficking group known as the Gulf Clan. The gang is one of the most powerful criminal syndicates in the South American nation, and is thought to have around 6,000 armed men.

While on the routine mission, the helicopter suddenly lost contact with its base, triggering an emergency search and rescue operation.

The cause of the crash is unknown. The army described it as an accident, although some suspect a technical issue.

The Colombian military has recently had issues with maintenance for its Mi-17 helicopters. Most of them have reached their 2,000-flight limit, making maintenance mandatory to ensure safety.

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According to a report on the Infodefensa portal, maintenance contracts for the Mi-17 have had to be put on hold. The Colombian government’s contractor – the National Aviation Service Company – was reportedly unable to receive payments amid Western sanctions on Russia.

In 2023, the Russian side offered the Colombian Defense Ministry several options for continuing maintenance of the Mi-17s, according to an official statement from the Russian Embassy in Bogota.

According to local media, there are around 20 Mi-17-type helicopters in Colombia’s arsenal. However, only nine are ready for flight. The operational helicopters are expected to remain in service until around 2026-27.

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