Two Dutch killed in Mali helicopter crash

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Two Dutch soldiers were killed in a crash with a Dutch Apache helicopter in Mali, Chief of Defense Tom Middendorp announced at a press conference in The Hague.

Captain Rene Zeetsen (30) died at the scene and First Lieutenant Ernst Mollinger died of his injuries in the French field hospital in Gao. Both of them were from the 301 Squadron   of the Defense Helicopter Commando at Gilze-Rijen.

The helicopter crashed yesterday afternoon during  a shooting exercise 47 kilometers north of the Dutch base camp Kamp Castor. Another Dutch Apache helicopter landed immediately and was the first to give aid. A French combat helicopter subsequently secured the location. Dutch comandos have secured the scene of the accident and is now guarding it. According to Middendorp, everything points to the crash being an accident, but that can not be confirmed yet.

Middendorp expressed condolences to the friends and family of Captain Rene Zeetsen and First Lieutenant Ernst Mollinger on behalf of Minister Jeanine Hennis Plasschaert and the entire force. "Our thoughts go out to them. I wish them, the colleagues in the MINUSMA mission and the Royal Air Force all the strength in this difficult time." The affected families will receive support from Defense's social workers.

In a first reaction Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that he is deeply shocked by the crash. "All of the Netherlands has been deeply touched by this. Respect for our soldiers. The Netherlands is behind them.", Rutte said, NOS reports.

Minister Bert Koenders of Foreign Affairs also said that the accident touched him deeply. Before being named Minister of Foreign Affairs, Koenders was the United Nations special envoy in Mali. "I want to express my deepest condolences to the families who have received this terrible news." Koenders said. "From this position (UN special envoy, ed), I have personally experienced how important the work is that our people do in Mali and with what dedication and professionalism they perform their duties. I have the utmost respect for them."

There are 450 Dutch peacekeepers in Mali under a UN mission which seeks to return security and stability to the African country. The Netherlands also provides 4 Apache helicopters and three Chinook transport helicopters for the mission. Military personnel from more than 20 countries are participating in this mission.