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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 May, 2003, 21:13 GMT 22:13 UK
Officer charged over Chechen air crash

A Russian officer who was responsible for an overloaded military helicopter shot down by Chechen rebels last August has been charged with negligence.

At least 119 people died when the Mi-26 helicopter was downed by a missile as it was coming in to land at the military base in Khankala, near the Chechen capital, Grozny. It crashed into a minefield.

Military prosecutors said Lieutenant-Colonel Alexander Kudyakov was also charged with violating flight regulations.

According to official documents, the helicopter, equipped to carry 80 troops, was loaded with at least 140 people.

The Russian military was using the helicopter to ferry troops in Chechnya despite a 1997 order prohibiting such actions.

President Vladimir Putin criticised the Russian defence ministry for the violation and an official inquiry was launched.

Mi-26 helicopter in Belarus
Heavy lifting transport helicopter
Introduced 1983
Can carry more than 80 troops and equipment
Maximum speed 295 km/h

The crash led to the suspension of the Russian army's aviation commander, Colonel Vitaly Pavlov.

Russian prosecutors say suspects accused of downing the helicopter are in custody and will soon go on trial.

It was the worst military aviation disaster since Russian forces stormed into Chechnya to crush a separatist revolt there in 1994.

Chechen rebels are reported to have attacked Russian federal positions 14 times over the past 24 hours.

An official in the Moscow-backed administration there said one soldier was killed and seven wounded.

The administration also said federal forces destroyed a large rebel base in the mountains of southern Chechnya, Russian TVS television reported.

Twelve hand-held anti-aircraft missiles and a large quantity of ammunition and drugs were seized, the report said.

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