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Victims of Siberian helicopter crash hunted rare animals - paper

MOSCOW, January 14 (RIA Novosti) - The Russian officials killed and injured in a helicopter crash last week in Altai, south Siberia, were hunting endangered animals, a Russian business daily said on Wednesday.

Last Friday's crash killed seven people, including the Russian president's envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin. Four people survived the crash, including the second pilot, Anatoly Bannykh, the republic's deputy prime minister, Nikolai Kapranov, and a State Duma official and businessman, Boris Belinsky.

The head of the regional committee on the protection of fauna, Viktor Kaymin, was also among the dead.

"In a photo from the crash site, posted on an Altai internet site, the carcasses of animals can be seen among the helicopter wreckage," the newspaper said. "According to experts, they belong to Altai mountain sheep, or argali."

The species is listed as a vulnerable animal on the IUCN red list. According to World Wildlife Fund Russia, there are only 200 animals left in the country. Hunting the animal was banned in 1934.

The government of the Republic of Altai earlier confirmed that the helicopter passengers had gone to the mountainous area for hunting, and said the officials had all the necessary licenses.

The Kommersant daily reported on Tuesday that the captain of the Mi-171 could have lowered the helicopter to a minimum altitude either to pick up the carcass of a shot mountain goat, or to take a better aim, thereby causing the crash.

The second pilot, Maxim Kolbin, said in an interview with respected the Russian daily Izvestia that one of the helicopter's twin engines had stopped as the aircraft hovered in the air at low altitude.

WWF Russia has already issued a statement confirming that the slain animals were mountain sheep and demanding investigation into the incident.

"Though mass media reports that mountain goats (Siberian ibexes) were the object of hunting, photos taken at the crash site confirm that mountain sheep (argali) were being hunted," the organization said.

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