updated 3/3/2008 2:09:55 PM ET 2008-03-03T19:09:55

A United Nations helicopter crashed Monday while flying in bad weather in Nepal’s mountainous east, killing at least 10 people, officials said.

Home Ministry spokesman Modraj Dotel said the helicopter was carrying U.N. personnel.

The Russian Transport Ministry said the craft was a Russian-made Mi-8 and was carrying eight passengers and three crew members — two Russians and a Belarusian. It said the helicopter belonged to Russian aviation company Vertikal-T. Officials at the company, based in Tver, a city near Moscow, could not be reached late Monday for comment.

Mohan Adhikari, chief of the air rescue unit at Katmandu airport, said rescuers have pulled 10 bodies from the wreckage but were still unsure how many people were on board.

“We have conflicting reports that there were either 11 or 15 people on board but even the U.N. representatives are not sure how many were there on the helicopter,” Adhikari said.

U.N. officials in Nepal declined to comment, saying they were seeking more information.

Villagers saw a ball of fire after the helicopter crashed on a mountain near Bethani, a village about 125 miles east of the capital, Katmandu, police official Chinu Acharya said by telephone.

Adhikari said authorities were unable to send rescue helicopters to the area due to the rain and darkness and the only rescue units were on foot. Rescue helicopters would attempt to fly to the area early Tuesday.

Sudden rain on Monday forced the cancellation of many scheduled commercial flights.

Flying in bad weather is often difficult in Nepal’s mountainous terrain. Pilots often use their vision to navigate through the mountains and depend less on instruments.

The United Nations has been helping Nepal’s peace process since 2006, when communist rebels gave up their armed revolt and joined mainstream politics. The rebels confined their combatants and weapons in camps under the supervision of U.N. arms monitors.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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