KANCHANABURI (AFP) – A Thai army helicopter crashed in western Kanchanaburi province today, killing at least 11 people, including seven senior officers, an army spokesman said. Maj Gen Sanchai Rachtawan, commander of Ninth Army division, was among the top army officers who died, along with two pilots and two technicians. Army Lt Gen Lertrat Ratanavanich said the aircraft went down only 15 minutes after taking off from an army base on a mission to assess the situation along the tense Myanmar-Thailand border. He said that witnesses saw the helicopter, an American-made Bell 212, try to turn back to Kanchanaburi base after getting into difficulties in heavy rain. “Villagers then heard an explosion when the helicopter was flying only 300 meters above the ground,” he added. An army spokesman speaking from the crash site ruled out any suggestion that the helicopter had been brought down by hostile fire. “This was an accident; it was a long way from the border,” he said, pointing out that it happened more than 40 kilometers inside Thailand’s frontier. Rescue teams have recovered bodies from the wreckage of the helicopter which was broken into small pieces and spread over a wide area. Only the tail section of the aircraft was still complete, witnesses said.
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