Nine Turkish soldiers killed in helicopter crash

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Istanbul (AFP)

Nine Turkish soldiers were killed and four wounded when their military helicopter crashed Thursday in heavy weather in the country's restive southeast, the defence ministry said.

Television images from the crash site showed the ground blanketed in snow and visibility hampered by thick clouds in the mountainous region.

Ruling AKP party lawmaker Tolga Agar, who sits on parliament's defence committee, tweeted that Lieutenant General Osman Erbas was among the dead.

Erbas is officially listed as the head of the Turkish army's 8th Corps.

The defence ministry did not immediately confirm the senior commander's death in a statement which said contact with the helicopter was lost in the Bitlis province 30 minutes after it took off.

"Nine heroic soldiers fell as martyrs and four were injured in the accident," the defence ministry said, adding that the injured were being transported to hospital.

"I pray for Allah's mercy for our nine martyrs... Our pain is great," Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin tweeted.

Turkish media reports said Defence Minister Hulusi Akar and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu were both travelling to the site of the crash.

The European Union and the United States immediately offered their condolences.

"We share the deep sorrow of Turkey for the loss of nine military personnel in Bitlis," said the EU's Turkey ambassador Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut, whose bloc will review its relations with Ankara at summit in Brussels later this month.

"Our thoughts are with the families of all those affected, and we wish a rapid recovery to the injured," the US embassy said in a tweet.

The Turkish defence ministry said the accident involved a Cougar helicopter but provided no details about the model.

The Cougar family of multi-purpose helicopters were developed by France and are now produced by Airbus.

The accident occurred in a region where Turkish forces regularly conduct military operations against outlawed Kurdish militias.

In 2017, a military helicopter crashed in the southeastern Sirnak province near Turkey's border with Syria and Iraq, killing 13 soldiers.