TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras — The U.S.-backed contras said Friday that they shot down a Nicaraguan helicopter gunship with an anti-aircraft missile supplied by the United States.
Military officials of the Sandinista regime in Managua said they had no information on a downed helicopter.
If the contras' report is true, it would be the first Sandinista helicopter brought down in a rebel offensive that began last fall after President Reagan signed legislation granting $100 million in new U.S. military and economic aid to the insurgents.
The United States has supplied the rebels with Soviet-made SAM-7 ground-to-air missiles and is soon expected to give them U.S.-made Red Eye missiles. Both are shoulder-fired, heat-seeking weapons.
The Sandinista helicopter was reportedly shot down near San Pedro del Norte, in central Nicaragua's Zelaya province, where Sandinista soldiers last week intercepted an air drop of four tons of munitions and other supplies intended for the contras.
Contra officials said they do not know the type of helicopter shot down. Nicaragua has a fleet of Soviet-made helicopters, including about 35 MI-8 and MI-17 armored transport helicopters and 10 to 15 MI-24 armored gunships.
Aristides Sanchez, a leader of the largest contra guerrilla organization, the Nicaraguan Democratic Force, said that the helicopter was hit about 11 a.m. and that its crew was killed in the crash.
"The Sandinistas are making a great effort to recover the bodies, but so far they have not been able to," Sanchez said.
Sanchez said the aircraft was one of several helicopters brought in to support Sandinista counterinsurgency troops battling with contras on the ground. He said the battle, which continued late Friday, involved guerrillas from the Jorge Salazar 1 Regional Command under a rebel commander who uses the pseudonym Rigoberto.
Sanchez had no details on how the battle began or how many fighters were involved on either side. Large-scale and prolonged combat generally is not part of the rebels' strategy against the stronger Sandinista Popular Army.
Last week, the Sandinistas intercepted a contra air drop about 25 miles southeast of San Pedro del Norte.