U.N. Grounds Helicopters After Crash

The U.N. (search) peacekeeping mission in Sierra Leone (search) grounded some helicopters Wednesday, police said, after a craft carrying its personnel crashed, killing 24 peacekeepers, aid workers and others killed in the accident.

A radio channel for the 10,800-strong U.N. peace mission in Sierra Leone broadcast hymns and phoned-in expressions of sorrow for the victims, who died Tuesday when their U.N.-chartered Mi-8 (search) slammed into a remote hill in the east.

The victims included 14 Pakistani peacekeepers, one Bangladeshi peacekeeper, three Russian crew and six civilians, including one local U.N. staffer, said Marie Okabe, a spokeswoman at U.N. headquarters in New York.

Recovery teams on Wednesday brought the burned bodies to a Pakistani-manned U.N. base in Koidu, near the crash site. The remains of all 24 will be transferred later Wednesday or early Thursday to the capital, Freetown, U.N. spokeswoman Sheila Dallas said.

A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.N. mission had ordered all other Mi-8s grounded in Sierra Leone pending results of an investigation into the cause of the accident.

It was not immediately known how many aircraft were effected; the U.N. has other makes of helicopters here.

Dallas declined comment. No helicopters -- the main means of transport across the country, where roads are few -- could be heard or seen flying by midafternoon.

In 2001, another Mi-8 used by the United Nations crashed in Sierra Leone, killing eight people.

President Ahmed Tejan Kabbah said he "extends deepest sympathy and condolences" to the U.N. mission and "the bereaved families of the peacekeepers, Sierra Leoneans and other civilian nationals."

The United Nations launched its mission in Sierra Leone, known as UNAMSIL -- the largest-ever U.N. deployment at its 17,500-strong peak -- to oversee the country's peace accord, which followed a vicious 1991-2002 civil war.

Sierra Leone's war pitted government forces against an insurgency fighting to gain control of the government and of diamond fields. Forceful military intervention by neighboring Guinea, Britain and the United Nations helped crush the rebels by 2002.

Until Tuesday, a total of 137 U.N. personnel had died in Sierra Leone, including many killed in attacks during fighting.