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Soldiers Scramble to Search for Downed Helicopter

Chinese soldiers were still scaling mountains and hacking their way through brambles and thorns in a desperate attempt to search for a downed military transport helicopter on Tuesday.

In Yunhua Mountain, more than 10 kilometers from Dujiangyan, dozens of soldiers were ascending the mountain to search the Mi-171 chopper from the People's Liberation Army that disappeared on May 31.

Troops from the Jinan Military Area Command were combing the area in southwest China's quake zone.

But steep mountains, dense bush and slippery tracks made the search difficult, said Liu Xitang, a battalion commander from Jinan Military Area Command.

He said the army started a "blanket search" in the area at 4:00 AM on Tuesday and nothing had been found so far.

Soldiers, who arrived in the area on Monday, have had to haul each other over the rugged terrain in case they fell on the slippery ground, said Fu Junhui, an army company commander.

Large landslides also hampered the search, he said.

By 9:00 PM on Tuesday, nothing had been found and the search was to resume at daybreak on Wednesday.

As of Monday night, 10,822 troops and paramilitary personnel had joined the search, which covered Yingxiu Township and Heishui Township of Aba Prefecture, according to the headquarters of the rescue mission.

Around 5:00 PM on Sunday, sunlight was reported glistening of something on Zhaogong Mountain, in Yingxiu Township, near the epicenter of the May 12 earthquake.

Authorities mobilized local residents and troops to search the area in three different directions, but nothing was found.

Villagers have been alerted to report anything out of the ordinary.

At 9:20 PM on Sunday, villagers claimed they had heard explosions in Maxi, near Dujiangyan, but another search found nothing.

However, the military rescue headquarters was planning more searches in the region.

"As long as there's hope, we won't stop searching," said Fu.

(Xinhua News Agency June 4, 2008)

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