TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — Nicaraguan rebels claimed Friday that they shot down a Nicaraguan army helicopter in a northern province bordering Honduras.
In Managua, a Nicaraguan Defense Ministry spokeswoman said one of its MI-17 helicopters had crashed in bad weather, killing 21 people.
Both versions said the aircraft went down Thursday in Nicaragua's northern Jinotega province.
The Nicaraguan Defense Ministry statement said the helicopter crashed near a landing site close to the village of Wamblan, less than a mile from the Honduran border.
It said the co-pilot, a technician and 19 soldiers died in the crash, while the pilot and one soldier survived.
Rebel commander Enrique Bermudez said in a telephone interview that the helicopter was hit while flying air support for government troops fighting the contras at Wamblan.
He said fighting began around Wamblan on Tuesday and continued Friday.