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    Aerial hunting cause of Siberian helicopter crash - daily

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    MOSCOW, January 13 (RIA Novosti) - Aerial hunting at low altitude may have been the cause of a Mi-171 helicopter crash last week in Altai, south Siberia, which left seven people dead including a top official, a Russian business daily said on Tuesday.

    Last Friday's crash killed seven people including the Russian president's envoy to the State Duma, Alexander Kosopkin. Four people survived the crash, including the second pilot, Anatoly Bannykh, the republic's deputy prime minister, Nikolai Kapranov, a State Duma official and businessman Boris Belinsky.

    The Kommersant daily reported, citing an anonymous friend of one of the crash survivors, the tragedy occurred after the helicopter passengers decided to go aerial hunting in the mountainous region. The helicopter was owned by energy giant Gazprom.

    "At the request of one of the passengers, the captain of the Mi-171 lowered the aircraft to a minimum altitude either to pick up the carcass of a shot mountain goat, or to take a better aim," the daily said adding that the altitude was too low and the helicopter's tail-rotor hit the mountain slope.

    Accident investigators have neither rejected nor confirmed the report saying that a preliminary conclusion will be made after data from the helicopter's "black boxes" has been examined.

    However, second pilot Maxim Kolbin said in an interview with respected Russian daily Izvestia that one of the helicopter's twin engines stopped as the aircraft hovered in the air at low altitude.

    "If the altitude had been higher, we could have been able to maneuver using the second engine, but... The aircraft rolled down a slope. Everyone yelled before the impact [with the ground] and then people began falling out of the craft from the doors and windows. We rolled over about three times," Kolbin said.

    The helicopter lost contact with air traffic control last Friday at around 3:00 p.m. local time (08:00 GMT). The wreckage of the helicopter was discovered near Chornaya Mountain in the Republic of Altai by a local border guard team on Sunday following an extensive search operation. The party was traveling from the town of Chemal to Kosh-Agach, near the Mongolian border.

    Mi-171 is an export version of the Mi-8 Hip helicopter, which is currently in production at two factories in Kazan and Ulan-Ude. According to the investigation, the crashed helicopter was in good working order and flying on high quality fuel.

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