The Nicaraguan Defense Ministry said a Soviet-supplied MI-8 helicopter crashed Monday, eight miles northeast of Mulukuku, a Sandinista army training base in Zelaya province, a few miles east of the Matagalpa-Zelaya provincial line.
A Defense Ministry spokeswoman said 14 people were killed. She said the ministry did not rule out the possibility that the helicopter was shot down by guerrillas but said this has not been confirmed.
(In Washington, a spokesman for the rebels, known as contras, said they downed the copter with a portable anti-aircraft missile. If the claim is true, it would mark the first time the rebels have successfully destroyed one of Nicaragua’s combat helicopters.)
The Sandinista army has at least 12 MI-8s, which are used for transport and as gunships. The army has received at least six MI-24s, which are faster and more heavily armed than the MI-8s.
The contras have frequently claimed to have shot down or damaged Sandinista helicopters. Army officials have acknowledged damage to helicopters by contra fire but have not confirmed that any have been shot down.