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Gabon helicopter crash: 5 more bodies found

/ Source: The Associated Press

The bodies of five of six French soldiers reported missing after a helicopter crashed into Atlantic waters off Gabon's coast were found on Sunday, the French president's office said.

In a statement, Nicolas Sarkozy's office said the deathtoll from Saturday's crash now stands at seven. Two soldiers survived the crash and are "out of danger," and one is still missing.

Rescuers will continue to search for the missing man, the statement said.

The helicopter's wreckage was discovered under 115 feet (35 meters) of water, the statement said. The helicopter crashed off Nyogne, a village between the west African country's capital, Libreville, and the oil port of Port Gentil.

It went down shortly after taking off from a French naval vessel participating in joint exercises with Gabon forces. The cause of the crash was not immediately known.

France's defense minister, Herve Morin, arrived in Gabon on Sunday afternoon, said Col. Philippe Tanguy, Defense Ministry spokesman in Paris. Morin was expected to visit the victims' families and meet with Gabon President Omar Bongo.

Two rescue helicopters, French military ships and ships belonging to French oil giant Total had been searching the waters around the crash site. Rescuers initially pulled three soldiers from the water alive, but one of them later succumbed to injuries suffered in the crash, military spokesman Lt. Col. Pascal Carpentier said. One of the survivors was slightly injured, he said.

Rescuers found another soldier's body overnight Saturday.

This was the first major crash of a French military aircraft since May 2007, when a military plane went down in the Sinai Peninsula, in Egypt, killing eight French soldiers and one Canadian.