Eight international peacekeepers killed in Sinai helicopter crash

Six Americans, one Czech and one French citizen killed and only survivor in critical state

MFO staff in Egypt
MFO staff supervise activities as Egyptian border guards prepare to take up positions in Rafah, Egypt. Photograph: EPA
MFO staff supervise activities as Egyptian border guards prepare to take up positions in Rafah, Egypt. Photograph: EPA

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 13.25 EST

A helicopter carrying members of a multinational peacekeeping force has crashed near Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, killing six Americans, a Czech and a French citizen.

The US-led Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) said in a statement that all but one of the nine people onboard were killed when the aircraft went down “during a routine operation”.

Egypt has waged a years-long battle against Islamist militants in the Sinai. However, the MFO said there was “no information to indicate the crash was anything except an accident”, adding it would conduct an investigation.

The Israeli military said it had offered medical assistance to the peacekeepers involved in the crash, and that it had sent a search and rescue helicopter to evacuate the injured survivor – an American – to an Israeli hospital for medical treatment.

“We greatly appreciate the cooperation and support of Egypt and Israel in the recovery effort,” the MFO said.

After Egypt and Israel signed a peace agreement in 1979, the MFO was established as an independent body to ensure the neighbours complied with restrictions on military forces and equipment in areas near the frontier. It also ensures freedom of navigation through the Straits of Tiran.

The force, which is headquartered in Rome, consists of 1,154 troops from 13 countries covering an area of more than 3,860 sq miles (10,000 sq km) in the Sinai.

Washington was instrumental in the peace agreement, pays one-third of the MFO’s operating costs and contributes around 450 personnel – more than any other country.

In recent years, the US has considered whether it should continue its involvement, as Egyptian and Israeli diplomatic relations have strengthened. Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, Egypt’s general-turned-president, has sought Israel’s help in fighting an Islamist-led insurgency and the two countries maintain a blockade on Gaza.

The MFO did not release the names of the dead from Thursday’s crash, saying it wanted to wait until their families had been notified. It did not provide a precise location of where the helicopter crashed.

An Egyptian official, cited on condition of anonymity by the Associated Press news agency, said the helicopter crashed over Red Sea waters outside Egypt’s territorial borders.

The Czech Republic’s military said the cause of the crash was a technical malfunction, adding that the survivor was in a critical condition.