BAGHDAD – A Russian-built Iraqi military helicopter providing aid to those stranded on a mountain fleeing Sunni militants crashed Tuesday after too many tried to climb aboard, killing the pilot, said an army spokesman.
Lt. Gen. Qassim al-Moussawi said in a statement that Iraqi parliamentarian Vian Dakheel, of the minority Yazidi community most affected by the fighting, was aboard the Mi-17 helicopter and was injured in the crash. She and others aboard were evacuated to a hospital in the nearby Kurdish autonomous region.
The New York Times reported on its website that reporter Alissa J. Rubin, riding along on the helicopter for a story, suffered an apparent concussion and broken wrists in the crash. Photographer Adam Ferguson was also on board but uninjured.
“The helicopter delivered aid to the people stranded in Sinjar and too many people boarded it and it hit the mountain during takeoff,” said the Iraqi statement.
Sunni militants from the Islamic State group on Aug. 4 took the town of Sinjar in a remote region of Iraq near the Syrian border and gave the local Yazidi minority population an ultimatum to convert to Islam or die.
The Yazidis, a 500,000 strong people, follow an ancient religion with links to Zoroastrianism but are seen as infidels by the radical Islamists.
Tens of thousands fled to the remote and arid Sinjar mountains where they suffered from lack of food and water, prompting Iraq, the U.S. and other nations to airlift them food and water.
Iraqi military helicopters have attempted to ferry out a few of the displaced but most have been slowly making their way to the protection of the Kurdish autonomous region.
Dakheel, the sole lawmaker from the Yazidi community, made an impassioned plea in parliament on Aug. 5 to save her people before leaving for the north.