2 February 2015 – The crew of a United Nations-operated helicopter that was forced to land in South Sudan have been returned safely to a World Food Programme (WFP) office, according to a press statement released by the agency today.
“It is regrettable that this incident took place,” said WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin. “However, we are greatly relieved that the WFP crew members are unhurt and back with us.”
The six Bulgarian crew members were flying an Mi-8 helicopter contracted to the WFP from Rumbek in South Sudan to Khartoum in Sudan, where the aircraft was due to undergo regular maintenance. They came under fired from members of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army-North (SPLM-N) and were forced to make an emergency landing in a remote area of Sudan’s South Kordofan state.
The WFP worked with authorities both in Sudan and South Sudan to locate and recover the crew when contact was lost with the helicopter. Last Monday, the SPLM-N said it was holding the crew, all of whom were unharmed.
Negotiations for the crew’s release continued throughout the week, with a group known as the New Sudan Women’s League saying it engaged with the SPLM-N to arrange the return of the crew.
The crew was released on Sunday morning and reached a WFP office in Yida near the border with South Kordofan before being flown by another WFP-contracted aircraft from Yida to the Southern Sudanese capital of Juba.
The WFP-managed UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) provides air transportation for emergency response in areas of hunger. It provides a critical service for the entire humanitarian community in South Sudan, giving efficient, safe and reliable air transport air transport to humanitarian organisations. It operates on the principles of independence, impartiality and neutrality, regardless of politics.