Weeklong search failed to find Red Cross-chartered helicopter

A weeklong search has failed to find any sign of a Red Cross-chartered helicopter that went missing with seven crew members aboard in the mountains along the Pakistan-Afghan border, officials said Friday.

Red Cross spokeswoman Layla Berlemont Shtewi told The Associated Press that so far rescuers were unable to locate the helicopter, which the organization chartered to help the survivors of the Oct. 8 quake that killed 87,000 people in Pakistan and left nearly 3.5 million others homeless.

"We don't know what happened to it and how," she said, adding a search for the helicopter was still going on along the Pakistan-Afghan border. She would not give any other details.

The Russian-made Mi-8 transport chopper disappeared Jan. 21 after taking off from Peshawar, the capital of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province bordering Afghanistan.

It was scheduled to land in the Afghan capital, Kabul, to refuel on its return to Turkmenistan, where it was chartered. Pakistani officials have said the helicopter might have crashed somewhere in Afghanistan.

"The helicopter lost contact with Pakistani air traffic control shortly after leaving our airspace," said an army official on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

Dozens of helicopters have been involved in getting aid to quake survivors in northern Pakistan. In October, four people were killed when a U.N. helicopter heading for the quake zone crashed in Azerbaijan, while a Pakistan army helicopter went down in Kashmir because of bad weather, killing all six on board, reports the AP. I.L.

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