New York, May 5, 2003—CPJ mourns the death of four journalists killed on Saturday, May 3, when a large firefighting helicopter they were traveling in crashed in the Chita Region, some 3,000 miles east of the capital, Moscow, according to local and international press reports. Seven crewmen and a forest management official also died.
Rossiya state television journalist Yuliana Nakhodkina and cameraman Konstantin Kozar, as well as journalist Galina Kovalskaya and photographer Ruslan Yamalov, of the Moscow-based weekly Yezhenedelny Zhurnal, died in the crash, according to local press reports.
Flying conditions were poor, with strong winds and low visibility due to smoke from forest fires that had begun in the region in late April, The Associated Press (AP) reported. The journalists were traveling in a Mi-26 helicopter operated by the Emergency Situations Ministry to cover the story when the helicopter crashed.
The ministry said the helicopter’s water canister swung backward after dumping water on a fire, possibly due to strong wind, and hit the rear rotor, causing the crash.
Military prosecutors have initiated a criminal inquiry into the crash, which is standard procedure in cases of air disasters, AP reported. Meanwhile, President Vladimir Putin has instructed officials to establish a special commission to examine the incident.