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Eleven soldiers killed after military helicopter crashes in Turkey

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Rescue workers pictured at the site of the accident, in the snowy mountains near the Turkish eastern city of Bitlis.
Rescue workers pictured at the site of the accident, in the snowy mountains near the Turkish eastern city of Bitlis.   -   Copyright  AP/DHA
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Eleven soldiers have been killed after a military helicopter crashed in eastern Turkey near Bitlis.

Turkey's defence ministry confirmed that "nine of our heroic comrades" were killed in the incident on Thursday, while two more victims died in hospital of their injuries.

Two others were injured after the Cougar-type helicopter crashed in a rural area near the town of Tatvan.

The wounded soldiers were evacuated to hospitals, authorities said.

Turkey's defence minister, Hulusi Akar, said the two individuals are in "good condition".

The aircraft had been on its way to Tatvan from the nearby province of Bingöl when authorities lost contact with it at 14:25 local time (12:25 CET) on Thursday, the ministry said in a statement.

Rescue services were able to locate the scene of the accident using drones, a reconnaissance plane, and another helicopter.

Authorities have described the incident as an "accident" due to poor weather conditions in the region.

“According to preliminary information and witnesses' statements, it is considered that the accident occurred due to suddenly changing adverse weather conditions," Akar said in a statement.

However, the minister said that the exact reason for the accident could only be announced after "a detailed investigation".

"Our pain is great," said Ibrahim Kalin, spokesman for President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

An official ceremony, attended by President Erdogan, was scheduled to take place on Friday to honour the soldiers.

"We share the deep sorrow of Turkey for the loss of 9 military personnel in Bitlis," added the EU's ambassador to Turkey, Nikolaus Meyer-Landrut.

"We wish for the speedy recovery of those injured," he added in a statement.

The crash took place in a predominantly Kurdish-populated province, where Turkish troops have been fighting against militants of the banned Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

The conflict has killed tens of thousands of people since 1984. The PKK is considered to be a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union.

In 2017, a military helicopter, also of the Cougar type, crashed in the province of Sirnak, on the border with Syria and Iraq, killing 13 people.