A helicopter belonging to an air force unit stationed in Hanoi crashed near a field in a local rural village during a routine training exercise Monday, leaving 16 dead and five injured.
The accident happened at around 7:30 a.m. when the Russian-made MI-171 chopper of Regiment 916 with 21 people on board, including three crew members, two trainers, and 16 parachute recruits, was undergoing parachuting exercise.
A Reuters report quoted several vendors as saying that those on board were paratroopers who had bought food from them just moments earlier.
15 minutes after takeoff, the helicopter crashed in Thach Hoa Commune, Thach That District, 40 kilometers west of Hanoi.
AFP quoted an eyewitness as saying that the helicopter appeared to run into difficulties before crashing into the ground and bursting into flames.
"I heard an aircraft making a strange noise... I ran outside and the aircraft exploded, there was a huge blaze then a plume of smoke," one middle-aged local resident told the newswire on condition of anonymity.
"The aircraft was flying low, it hit the ground and exploded at the same time," she said, adding it had looked like the helicopter was struggling to stay airborne before it crash-landed.
"It seemed like the pilot wanted to divert the plane from hitting the local market and houses, so it ran into that field," she said, gesturing towards the cordoned-off crash site.
A Russian-made MI-171 helicopter is being prepared to go on a new search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 in Ca Mau on March 10, 2014. Photo credit: AFP
The Vietnamese media reports carried conflicting numbers of casualties as their details remained sketchy.
Earlier, Tuoi Tre quoted local residents as saying that "several soldiers" have been killed and at least eight people injured.
Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper reported a pilot and an armed squad were among the dead and injured victims.
“Many people on the helicopter were burned to death, some others were injured and rushed to hospital,” Duong Nhu Hung, chairman of Thach Hoa Commune, was quoted by Lao Dong as saying.
News website Dan Tri reported that no residents were injured in the accident.
As soon as the accident happened, villagers and local military officers managed to put out the fire and rushed the victims to hospital.
Firefighting police also arrived at the scene to quell the fire.
Dan Tri quoted a source from 105 Military Hospital in Hanoi’s Son Tay Town as saying some victims were seriously burned.
Rescue work and investigations are still ongoing.
In 2008, five Vietnamese military pilots were killed when their twin-engine light transport aircraft crashed on the outskirts of Hanoi, according to an AFP report.
The Soviet-designed Antonov An-26 turboprop crashed into a rice field south of the capital during a morning training flight, the report said.
TO BE UPDATED