Colombia's Army Found Crashed Helicopter. 23 Feared Dead

At first, authorities though it was an accident. However, local heard a shooting before the crash
A Colombian Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed in a mountainous region of northern Colombia, killing all 23 officers, soldiers and crewmen aboard last Thursday. The helicopter crashed at around 6:30 am (1130 GMT) as troops from the army's elite Rapid Deployment Force were carrying out an anti-guerrilla offensive near the town of Curumani, in the mountainous Cesar province, some 700 kilometers (435 miles) north of Bogota.

Hundreds of soldiers and several helicopters were involved in the search and rescue operation. "Reconnaissance aircraft established that the five officers, three non-commissioned officers and 15 soldiers aboard were killed," army spokesman Major Jose Espejo told AFP. At first, official reports confirmed the helicopter had fallen in bad weather conditions; however, by the end of the week, some native farmers in the area of the crash said to the local press that a shooting was heard before the accident.

Rebels with the 17,000-strong Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Latin America's most powerful insurgency, has claimed in the past to have shot down military aircraft. The rebels are known to posses high-caliber machine guns as well as some shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles. It has not yet confirmed whether they shot or not the Cessna-128 carrying four CIA agents; one of them has been killed and the other three remind kidnapped.

"I was milking the only cow we have, when by 6.30 am shots begun in the mountains. Then, we heard a "guarapazo" (crash), that I have never heard before", told local reporters Daniel Pallares, an 18 years old farmer. Twenty-four hours later, Pallares also saw how the Colombian Army started rescuing corpses.

The army had to gain complete control of Cerro Monterrey - the area of the crash - to start rescuing operations. The are is partially controlled by the "Camilo Torres" front commanded by the Army of National Liberation - ELN - and the FARC's "41 Front".

Hernan Etchaleco PRAVDA.Ru Argentina

Photo (El Tiempo -Colombia-): The army advances through the jungle to the place where the crashed Black Hawk lies.