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9 Peacekeepers Die in Egypt Plane Crash

Sunday, May 06, 2007

By OMAR SINAN, Associated Press Writer

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EL-NAKHL, Egypt — 

A plane carrying foreign peacekeepers across the Sinai desert crashed Sunday near a stretch of highway where it had tried to make an emergency landing, killing eight French soldiers and a Canadian, officials said.

Capt. Mohammed Badr, a police officer in Sinai, said the plane went down 50 miles from the nearest major town, el-Nakhl.

It appeared the Canadian-made DeHavilland DHC-6 Twin Otter tried to land on the mountain highway but clipped a truck and crashed nearby, said Normand St. Pierre, a spokesman for the Multinational Force and Observers, an independent force created by Egypt and Israel to monitor their border in the Sinai after a 1979 peace deal.

The crash wiped out more than half of the 15-member French contingent and destroyed the mission's sole fixed-wing aircraft, St. Pierre said. The aircraft was on a training mission and carried a "higher than normal" load of passengers and crew. The truck driver escaped unharmed.

"The French government will have to decide whether it wants to rebuild the unit and send in a new plane," St. Pierre said. "It's a great loss. Everyone is shocked. We can do a lot with helicopters in the meantime, but we can't reconstitute the unit."

Capt. Ihab Moheildin, the air control officer at Cairo International Airport, said the airport lost contact with the plane after receiving a distress signal, indicating a possible mechanical failure.

Ahmad Attallah, a truck driver who was driving about 25 miles south of el-Nakhl told The Associated Press he saw the plane on its way down, just after he heard something slam into the roof of his truck.

"I looked up and saw a small plane with a trail of flame and smoke flying at a low altitude and then it disappeared and I heard an explosion," he said.

Hilal Shehata Mohammed was driving another truck nearby when he saw the plane's wing hit Attallah's truck.

"We saw the plane coming down and was shaking and the pilot seemed to be trying to use the highway as a runway but the wing of the plane hit the first truck and it caught on fire," he said.

Moheildin said the Twin Otter took off in sunny, clear weather at 7:46 a.m. local time from El Gorah base _ the northern headquarters of the peacekeeping mission _ on its way to St. Catherine's airport in the southern Sinai Peninsula.

He said the airport lost contact with the plane at 9:15 a.m. after receiving a distress signal.

The peacekeeping force includes about 1,800 troops from the United States, France, Australia, Canada, Colombia, Fiji, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand and Uruguay, plus a few officers from Norway.

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Associated Press writers Ashraf Sweillam in the Sinai Peninsula and Jim Krane in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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