The wreckage of a U.S. military helicopter lost on an earthquake relief mission in Nepal was found on Friday high on a mountainside and all eight on board were killed, U.S. officials said.
A U.S. search team identified the wreckage as that of the missing Marines UH-1Y Huey helicopter deployed after the Himalayan state was hit by a big earthquake last month that killed more than 8,000 people.
Crash debris was found 8 miles (13 km) north of the town of Charikot near dense forest and rugged terrain. Six U.S. Marines and two Nepali soldiers were killed in the crash.
"Together we mourn as our nation and the Federal Republic of Nepal have lost eight courageous men," said Admiral Samuel J. Locklear, commander of the U.S. Pacific Command. "Our thoughts and prayers are with the families."
The Huey went missing while it was distributing aid on Tuesday, the day a strong aftershock hit Nepal and killed more than 100 people and after the crew was heard over the radio saying the aircraft was experiencing a fuel problem.
The Huey, a helicopter dating back to the Vietnam War era, was completely destroyed, Nepal's top defence ministry official said.
"As the helicopter has broken into pieces and totally crashed there is no chance of any survivors," Nepal's defence secretary Ishwori Prasad Paudyal said earlier on Friday.
After a three-day search the Huey was spotted near the village of Ghorthali at an altitude of 11,200 ft (3,400 m), an army general told Reuters, as helicopters and Nepali ground troops converged on the crash site.
"It was found on a steep slope," Major General Binoj Basnet said. U.S. and Nepali teams investigated the site on Friday in an attempt to determine the cause of the crash.
On Saturday, U.S. and Nepali forces plan to get a team to the site to collect the bodies and begin identification of the charred remains.
The area's tallest peak soars to more than 7,000 metres (23,000 ft). Hillsides are cloaked with forest that made it hard to find the helicopter even though it came down just a few miles from Charikot, the capital of Dolakha district, half a day's drive to the east of Kathmandu.
An army base in the town has been serving as a hub for operations to airlift and treat those injured in the two earthquakes, and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala flew in on Thursday for an on-the-spot briefing.
The first quake, which struck on April 25 with a magnitude of 7.8, has killed 8,199 people. The death toll from a 7.3 aftershock on Tuesday has reached 117, with many victims in Dolakha.
The combined toll is approaching the number of just over 8,500 who died in an earthquake in 1934, the worst natural disaster on record to hit Nepal.
Some 76,000 more have been injured, while hundreds of thousands of buildings, including ancient temples and monuments, have been damaged or destroyed. Nearly three weeks after the first quake, aftershocks continue to rattle the country.
Nepal mobilised 600 soldiers to search for the missing Huey.
Two more U.S. Hueys, two MV-22B Osprey tilt-rotor planes and Nepali and Indian choppers had been involved in the search for the helicopter, which was part of a joint task force sent in by the United States to provide assistance at Nepal's request.
U.S. officials said the crash would not affect relief operations.
"We will continue to stand by Nepal as long as they need our help," Wissler told reporters.
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