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Mules To Retrieve Haiti Victims

March 19, 1999

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) _ Workers leading a train of 20 mules picked their way along deep gullies to retrieve charred bodies from the wreck of a U.N. helicopter that crashed among Haitian peaks five days ago.

By sundown Thursday, mules had returned from the mountains with 10 of the 13 victims, including the six Argentine gendarmes killed in the crash. The other four bodies recovered had not been identified.

One mule slipped on wet rocks and plunged to its death on the way to the crash site amid peaks 30 miles northeast of Port-au-Prince, U.N. spokesman Daniel Amiot-Priso said.

Crews had planned to lift the bodies with cables strung from U.S. Coast Guard helicopters because the site is too rocky to land, but heavy rains forced a change of plans, he said.

The Russian-made Mi-8 helicopter crashed Sunday night with six Argentines, six Russians and an American on board. There were no survivors. The American was identified as Errol Van Eaton, 51, of Everett, Wash.

The helicopter was en route to northern Cap Haitien to pick up an injured Finnish tourist and lost radio contact 15 minutes after takeoff from Port-au-Prince.

A U.S. Coast Guard helicopter discovered the crash site Monday afternoon.

Heavy rain Wednesday forced the convoy of 30 U.N. workers and mules to stop its eight-hour march from the Central Plateau District capital of Hinche to the site. The team resumed the trek Thursday and had reached the crash site by noon, Amiot-Priso said.

U.N. vehicles were waiting in Hinche to bring the bodies to the capital in case bad weather made helicopter flight impossible, he said.

The crashed helicopter was the second sent to help the Finnish tourist after a first helicopter developed a fuel leak. The United Nations often responds to requests for humanitarian assistance.

A short memorial ceremony was planned for Friday afternoon at the Argentine camp near the International Airport outside the capital.

Some 140 Argentine gendarmes are in Haiti protecting about 140 U.N. instructors who are training the country’s police.

In 1995, U.N. peacekeepers replaced an American force that had removed a military-backed government and reinstalled then-President Jean-Bertrand Aristide as president in 1994.

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