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Rain Slows Recovery of Helicopter Crash Bodies in Quake Zone

Bad weather has set back plans to recover the bodies of 18 people who died when a military helicopter crashed during a mercy mission in southwest China's earthquake zone.

Rain forced the rescue team to delay their hike out of the forested crash site in steep mountains for more than 24 hours before they were finally able to set off on Thursday afternoon.

Traveling on foot, they are carrying the bodies through the rugged terrain to Yingxiu, a town hard hit by the May 12 earthquake, said rescue officials.

The marchers would also have to stop at night, said officials.

The bodies will be placed in coffins on arrival in Yingxiu, and driven in hearses to Chengdu, capital of Sichuan Province, where the funeral would be held.

Earlier on Thursday, rescuers carried two knapsacks from the site to Yingxiu. The knapsacks were said to contain the personal effects of the victims and possibly the aircraft's black boxes.

The helicopter was carrying 10 people injured in the quake when it crashed deep in the mountains on May 31 on a return trip from Lixian County to Chengdu.

Searchers found the site on Tuesday after a 12-day search for the aircraft, which was widely scattered among heavy vegetation 7.5 kilometers from Yingxiu.

Also aboard the helicopter with the injured civilians were the crew of five and three policemen, officials said on Thursday, correcting previous reports that 13 injured civilians were aboard.

One person formerly reported as being on board did not take the helicopter.

More than 100 people had arrived at the crash site to clear the scene and conduct a forensic examination.

The remains had been photographed and subjected to DNA identity confirmation, Sichuan's military quake relief headquarters said.

A period of silence was observed at the scene before the bodies were put into bags.

More than 1,000 soldiers were dispatched to carry the bodies out of the region on foot, as the site was too mountainous and the bamboo cover too thick to allow rescue helicopters to land, said Zhang Peimin, of the Sichuan Military Area Command.

The rugged terrain and variable weather had greatly hindered the task, he said.

The steep, densely-forested canyons and heavy rain would make the march with stretchers more difficult than anyone could imagine, said Zhang.

He estimated the recovery team would take more than eight hours to reach Yingxiu if conditions remained favorable.

(Xinhua News Agency June 12, 2008)

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