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Wednesday, 10 July, 2002, 15:53 GMT 16:53 UK
Cyprus mourns military deaths
Crash victims' bodies recovered by police and army personel
All five people on board were killed in the crash
The Government of Cyprus has declared three days of national mourning after a helicopter crash on the island killed the commanders of both the national guard and the air force.

The aircraft carrying guard commander General Evangelos Florakis and air force chief Vassilis Dervenagas went down near Paphos in the southwest.

Three other officers also died.

It remains unclear what caused the helicopter, a Bell 206, to crash, but sabotage appears to have been ruled out.

Defence Minister Socratis Hasikos and President Glafcos Clerides, who both visited the site, have promised a full investigation into the incident - the first to hit the national guard since its air wing was established.

Ravine explosion

Mr Hasikos said the team was taking part in a "night exercise" and had set off from Nicosia airport at 0420 AM (0120 GMT).

General Florakis
General Florakis was a Greek national
It lost contact with air traffic control about 35 minutes later. The crash occurred shortly before it reached its destination of Paphos air base.

The helicopter came down in a ravine at Kouklia, where residents reported hearing a large explosion.

"First indications are that the pilot managed to land, but as it was dark he landed on the edge of a small cliff. The helicopter then overturned several times and caught fire," President Clerides said.

Military authorities say the five bodies were so badly burned they will require DNA tests for identification.

President Clerides described the death of General Florakis as "a great loss for Cyprus".

General Florakis, a Greek national, took over command of the 15,000-strong national guard two years ago.

Its principal task is manning the ceasefire line which divides the island into Greek Cypriot and Turkish controlled areas. The latter is recognised only by Turkey.

The guard is a conscript force but senior officers are often seconded from the Greek army.

Correspondents say General Florakis was a popular figure among his troops, and was also liked by the public.

He had recently appeared on television to appeal against drunk driving.

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 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Tabitha Morgan
"Witnesses say the helicopter plunged into a ravine"
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