Image: Party members waits outside the party headquarters
Supporters await word on the fate of nationalist leader Muhsin Yazicioglu outside party headquarters in Ankara on Thursday. Yaziciogluas and five others were aboard a helicopter that crashed a day earlier in the snow-covered mountains of central Turkey.
updated 3/26/2009 2:51:49 PM ET 2009-03-26T18:51:49

Thousands of rescue workers searched the snow-covered mountains of central Turkey on Thursday for survivors of a helicopter crash as TV broadcast an injured passenger's appeal for help.

A nationalist party leader was one of six people on board when the aircraft crashed Wednesday, and Turkish political leaders suspended campaigning for Sunday's local elections out of respect for him.

Surviving passenger Ismail Gunes, badly injured and freezing cold, called from the wreckage of Wednesday's crash.

"I think everyone is dead," Gunes said in the emergency call broadcast Thursday by Turkish TV. "I am starting to freeze. I am cold."

"There's snow, there's fog everywhere," said Gunes, a cameraman for Turkish news agency IHA. He was apparently wedged inside the helicopter.

The emergency responder told him police were trying to find the crash site.

Later, Gunes moaned and again appealed for help: "My leg's badly broken. Madam, have you still not located us? We will freeze. I think the others are dead. I cannot move my foot. It is badly broken. When will you locate us, madam?"

Orhan Sali, an official of the IHA agency, said, "We fear for him, his voice was shaken and the temperatures were minus 20 degrees there last night. ... We keep praying for him," Sali said Thursday.

The government says rescue workers could not detect a locator signal from the helicopter.

"We hope we can find them alive," Interior Minister Besir Atalay said. "We're doing our best."

Politician on board
Atalay said rescue helicopters awaited clear skies to take off to help the search by soldiers and villagers in an area of at least 8 square miles, he said. Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Cicek said some 3,000 people were searching for the helicopter.

The helicopter, which crashed in the province of Kahramanmaras, was carrying Muhsin Yazicioglu, leader of the small conservative Great Unity Party as he returned from a rally before Sunday's local elections.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and other political leaders canceled election rallies in solidarity with 55-year-old Yazicioglu, a prominent leader of the conservative, nationalist movement in Turkey.

About 300 angry Yazicioglu supporters marched toward Erdogan's office on Thursday, accusing the government of starting the search late. The government said the accusation was false.

Erdogan's Islamic-rooted party is expected to lead the voting for mayors and district administrators, though some opinion polls indicate a dip in support for the governing Justice and Development Party compared with its landslide win in general elections in 2007.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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