DAMASCUS, SYRIA (BNO NEWS) — A Syrian military helicopter crashed near the capital Damascus on Thursday after it clipped the tail of a large passenger plane, the country’s information ministry said. The aircraft was able to land safely and the 200 people on board escaped unharmed.
The accident happened in the Adraa area near Douma, a city about 10 kilometers (6.2 miles) northwest of Damascus, when a military helicopter clipped the tail of a Syrian Arab Airlines passenger plane. The Ministry of Information said the aircraft was carrying around 200 passengers and crew members.
The passenger plane was able to land safely at Damascus International Airport while the helicopter crashed nearby in the Adraa area. The government gave no details about the number of people on board the helicopter or if there were any casualties. The type of helicopter was also not immediately known.
Earlier, the UK-based opposition activist group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) claimed rebels had shot down the aircraft. “Explosions were heard in the area earlier this morning. Activists report that the helicopter was shot down by rebel fire,” the group said. The claim could not be independently verified, but the government insisted it was an accident.
Rebels have increased their attacks on fighter jets and helicopters in recent months as the Syrian regime has begun using them to crush opposition strongholds. The opposition has claimed to have downed several aircraft in recent weeks, but the government has downplayed them as having been caused by technical faults.
The crisis in Syria began as a pro-democracy protest movement in March 2011, similar to those across the Middle East and North Africa. The Syrian government violently cracked down on the protests, setting off an armed conflict between pro-Assad forces and anti-government forces.
The United Nations estimates that more than 18,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed and more than 1.2 million have been displaced since the uprising against President al-Assad began 1.5 year ago. The opposition believes the number of deaths has already surpassed 29,000.