Rain hinders search for WWF helicopter missing in east Nepal

Rescuers combed through mountains in eastern Nepal on Monday for a helicopter that disappeared while carrying the forest minister and 23 other people, including a foreign officials, aid workers and journalists, officials said.

But an aerial search for survivors in Nepal's Taplejung district was suspended Monday because of heavy rain, local government administrator Himnath Dawadi said.

Mountain guides, soldiers, policemen and local villagers combing the area on foot had not located any trace of the helicopter, chartered by the environmental group WWF for a visit to a conservation project, Dawadi said.

An army helicopter on Sunday had managed to drop a team of seven rescuers near the area from where the missing helicopter made its last communication, about 400 kilometers (250 miles) east of Nepal's capital, Katmandu.

The helicopter had Nepal's Forest Minister Gopal Rai and his wife, Finnish Embassy Charge d'Affaires Pauli Mustonen, and USAID Deputy Director in Nepal Margaret Alexander on board.

WWF said seven of its employees were among the missing, including four Nepalis, an Australian, a Canadian and an American, reports AP.

Several Nepali journalists, government officials and four crew members two Russians and two Nepalis also were on board.

The government has also announced an award of 201,000 rupees (US$ 2,700; euro2,250) to anyone providing information about the missing helicopter.

The government has given top priority to the rescue effort, said Tourism and Civil Aviation Minister Pradeep Gyawali, who was coordinating the search from Katmandu's airport.