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Copter Crashes in Quake Zone

Nine aboard the Australian craft are killed on the Indonesian island of Nias. The crew had been taking victims to a hospital ship.

April 03, 2005|From Times Wire Services

GUNUNGSITOLI, Indonesia — An Australian navy helicopter ferrying an emergency medical team to a remote village crashed Saturday on Indonesia's earthquake-devastated Nias island, killing nine people on board, officials said.

The Sea King helicopter crashed near Gunungsitoli, the island's largest town, Australian Associated Press reported. The Australian military confirmed the crash but did not report the casualties. Its cause was not clear.

In Jakarta, the Indonesian capital, air force spokesman Sagom Tambun said by telephone that the helicopter had been on a mission to evacuate quake victims to an Australian hospital ship.

"But before it could reach the ship, it fell and burned," the spokesman said.

The agency quoted the ship's captain, Cmdr. George McGuire, as saying that two survivors were airlifted by another helicopter to the ship and were in serious condition.

It was one of Australia's worst losses on an active service mission since the Vietnam War.

Not all the news Saturday was bad.

Workers rescued a man who had survived for nearly five days under a mountain of rubble, and aid finally reached thousands of homeless and hungry victims of Monday's magnitude 8.7 quake on remote islands off the northern coast of Sumatra island.

The survivor's cries for help were heard Saturday by laborers, who alerted Singaporean and Indonesian rescue teams.

They dug for seven hours with jackhammers to pull him from the ruins of his three-story house.

"It's a miracle, it's a miracle! I can't believe what is happening in my heart and mind right now," said Omar Flores, 30, a rescuer from Mexico City who was drenched in sweat.

"The man was saying, 'Help, help, give me water,' " said Satria, an Indonesian military officer, who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name. The rescued man, Hendra, said he had lost his wife and two daughters, ages 11 and 9, in the quake.

"I think my daughter was crushed by a concrete slab ... everything collapsed," he told reporters from his hospital bed.

Tens of thousands of people were left homeless and more than 500 were killed by last week's quake, which devastated Nias, Banyak and Simeulue islands. The toll is expected to rise. The United Nations has said 1,300 people may have been killed on Nias alone.

Officials said that 514 of the deaths occurred on Nias and that an additional 100 bodies could be buried under the rubble.

On Saturday, a ferry docked in Sinabang, bringing the first major Indonesian government aid to Simeulue.

Most of the island's 31,000 people have lost their homes -- about 23,000 in the Dec. 26 quake and tsunami and the rest in Monday's quake.

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