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CNN Europe

Russia probes Lebed death crash

April 29, 2002

Alexander Lebed MOSCOW, Russia -- Russian investigators are sifting through wreckage to find the cause of a helicopter crash in which maverick soldier-turned-politician Alexander Lebed died.

One of Russia's most well-known public figures and the governor of the Krasnoyarsk region, Lebed died along with seven others when the Mi-8 helicopter they were travelling in crashed into a snowy Siberian hillside at the weekend.

Air crash investigators are studying the aircraft's voice and data recorders after they were discovered earlier Monday.

Technical problems have already been ruled out by Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu.

Thick fog concealing a frost-covered power line is thought to be the most likely explanation for Sunday's crash near the town of Abakan in Lebed's vast Krasnoyarsk region, Russian news reports said.

Twelve other passengers survived the crash and are receiving hospital treatment.

The 52-year-old former army general, who helped defeat the 1991 hard-line Soviet coup against then president Mikhail Gorbachev and came in third in Russia's 1996 presidential elections, was one of Russia's most prominent politicians in the 1990s, gaining respect for his strong individual stance on thorny issues.

Russian President Vladimir Putin held a moment of silence in honour of Lebed at a meeting in Moscow on Monday, calling the governor a "comrade" and "one of Russia's most striking politicians."

Thousands of people went to a concert hall in Krasnoyarsk where his coffin was on display to pay their respects, Russian news reports said. His body is to be moved to Moscow on Tuesday.

One of the survivors, Stanislav Smirnov, a cameraman for local Channel 7 television, was quoted by The Associated Press as telling NTV from his hospital bed: "There was the impression that the trees were just under our wheels.

"Then the nose cracked and we went down. That's all I remember."

Three journalists and the region's deputy governor were among those killed. The helicopter was taking Lebed to the opening of a new downhill ski trail about 3,400 kilometres (2,100 miles) east of Moscow.

He will be buried at Moscow's elite Novodevichy Cemetery, which is reserved for Russia's top politicians and most beloved cultural figures, though no date for the funeral has been announced.

After his 1996 presidential bid Lebed served as the head of then-President Boris Yeltsin's security council and was credited with brokering an end to Moscow's 1994-96 war in Chechnya. He was elected governor of Krasnoyarsk in 1998.

See also:

the original at

Russian Soldier-Politician Lebed Dies in Air Crash. Reuters, April 28, 2002

CNN Europe, April 29, 2002

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