Zimbabwean opposition leader dies in helicopter crash in USA

Philimon Bulawayo  Reuters                       Roy Bennett

Andra Cobb was frantic when she called for help, telling an emergency operator that a helicopter she was riding in with her father, longtime partner and others had crashed in a remote part of New Mexico and that she was watching her "family burn".

Police said the rugged terrain and lack of access slowed down their response time.

Leading Zimbabwe opposition politician Roy Bennett has been killed with his wife in a helicopter crash in New Mexico state of the U.S., authorities said.

Mr Bennett, 60, treasurer-general of Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change opposition party, won a devoted following of black Zimbabweans for passionately advocating political change.

The injured victim of the crash called 911 after the helicopter went down Wednesday evening near the Colorado state line, and authorities launched a search. Bennett's wife, Heather, also died, Gutu said.

Pilot Jamie Coleman Dodd also managed to phone authorities before he died, telling operators there were three dead and another three survivors - him, Andra Cobb and Zimbabwean opposition leader Roy Bennett.

Mutasa also cleared Bennett of the allegations of hoarding arms that eventually saw him being hounded out of Zimbabwe. "My condolences are extended to their family and friends".

The 25ft-long British Steam Car - nicknamed the "fastest kettle in the world" - reached an average speed of 139.843mph on two runs over a measured mile at the Edwards Air Force Base in California. Both Dodd and Cobb were experienced aviators who would not have taken unnecessary risks in the helicopter, Hill said. Cobb's wife, Martha, said the co-pilot survived being shot down the during the Vietnam War.

The AP said Federal Aviation Administration records show the Huey UH-1 was registered to Sapphire Aviation LLC, which records show was linked to Mr Burnett.

The intended destination was the Emery Gap Ranch, a mountainous property near the Colorado-New Mexico border.

In 2004, Roy Bennett was jailed for a year for assaulting a Cabinet minister who had said Bennett's "forefathers were thieves and murderers" during a parliamentary debate.

Bennett later set to become the Deputy Minister of Agriculture of Zimbabwe until Mugabe refused to swear him in.

Bennett later returned to South Africa but remained a vocal critic of Mugabe's rule.

David Coltart, a former Zimbabwean education minister, said he was devastated and at a loss for words. He also criticized his former party for allegedly enjoying the comforts of government while ordinary Zimbabweans suffered.



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