UK

Iraqi Helicopter Crashes On Mount Sinjar As Desperate Refugees Swamp Chopper

13/08/2014 08:20 BST | Updated 13/08/2014 08:59 BST

An Iraqi military helicopter crashed during an aid flight on Tuesday night, swamped by desperate refugees trying to clamber aboard on Mount Sinjar.

The MI-17 helicopter was delivering aid to Yazidis when it crashed, killing its pilot and injuring several others on board. At least three Western journalists were onboard, including TIME photographer Moises Saman, who said he was "pinned down by the weight of some of the passengers for a while but suffered just a minor cut on his head".

Photographer Adam Ferguson, and New York Times’ Paris bureau chief Alissa J Rubin also survived the crash. “If we had been another 50 meters higher we’d all be dead,” Ferguson told the Times. Rubin has concussion, at least one broken wrist and possibly some broken ribs.

Kurdish news agency Rudaw said Vian Dakhil, a Yazidi member of the Iraqi parliament who last week made an emotional plea for her embattled community, was on board and wounded in the crash.

Fuad Hussein, the chief of staff for the Kurdish president, said overloading had not been the problem, but the crash had been caused by pilot error.

On Tuesday, Jonathan Rugman, a foreign affairs correspondent for Channel 4 News, helped to drag dozens of the refugees on board a separate Iraqi helicopter, and said it was overwhelmed by the number of people desperate to flee.

"You can be a bystander, you can say, 'I am telling the world what is going on and that is my job'. Or you can be so overwhelmed by the circumstances that you feel you have to help," Rugman told The Huffington Post UK, saying it had been one of the most "particularly intense" situations he had been in, during 20 years as a reporter.

"If you are on a helicopter, in a confined space that can only take 25 refugees, you are taking up one of those spaces," he added.

Around a quarter of a million Iraqis from religious minorities have already fled their homes in the face of "convert or die" ultimatums from the advancing militants, with women executed or taken as slaves and teenagers sexually assaulted, a United Nations report concluded.

The UN's special rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsak, urged: "All possible measures must be taken urgently to avoid a mass atrocity and potential genocide within days or hours - civilians need to be protected on the ground and escorted out of situations of extreme peril."

The UN refugee agency said up to 35,000 people had managed to reach Iraqi Kurdistan's Dohuk region after escaping from Mount Sinjar.

"The new arrivals are exhausted, dehydrated and many have suffered sun or heat stroke, with the daily temperatures reaching 40 to 45 degrees Celsius," UN High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Adrian Edwards.

A further 10,000 to 15,000 had arrived in Syria, but as many as 30,000 remained on the mountain.