Venezuelan Army Eurocopter AS 532 Cougar helicopter crashes near Caracas, killing seven

A Venezuelan military helicopter crashed close to Caracas on Saturday, killing all seven people on board, the defence ministry said in a statement.

The helicopter was to fly from Caracas, the capital, to the west-central state of Cojedes when it “went to ground”, the statement said, adding that authorities were investigating the cause of the crash.

On board, the helicopter were two lieutenant colonels as well as five lower-ranking officers. The statement did not say if the copter was part of the presidential delegation.

The Cougar helicopter hurtled into a mountain outside Caracas in the early hours of an overcast day in the capital. An investigation was underway.

The defence ministry said an investigation into the cause of the crash was under way.

Maduro was in San Carlos on Saturday, leading military exercises with the top brass and more than 5,000 troops.

It was a show of strength against opposition leader Juan Guaido, whose attempt to launch a military uprising earlier in the week had failed.

Guaido, the National Assembly head, was continuing his efforts to persuade the armed forces to abandon Maduro. The opposition leader made a fresh bid on Saturday to rally the country’s armed forces behind him calling on his supporters to march to military bases and barracks.

Maduro on Saturday instructed the military “to be ready to defend the homeland with weapons in your hands if one day the US empire dares to touch this territory, this sacred earth.”

Underscoring the continued military support for his government, Maduro delivered his televised address from a base in northwestern Cojedes state – where he appeared alongside defence minister, Vladimir Padrino, and in the presence of more than 5,000 troops.

The United States has refused to take the threat of military action off the table in its push to oust Maduro — although it so far has limited its campaign to ramping up sanctions.

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