Breaking News Emails
MOSCOW — A Russian military helicopter was shot down over Syria on Monday killing all five people on board, officials told state-run media.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman told reporters the Mi-8 chopper had just delivered humanitarian aid to the besieged city of Aleppo when it was downed in Syria's Idlib province.
Dmitri Peskov said the crew "died a heroic death, because they tried to steer the aircraft away to minimize casualties on the ground," the state-run TASS news agency reported.
The Russian Ministry of Defense said earlier Monday that the helicopter was shot down by ground fire while it was returning to Russia's Hmeymim airbase in Syria's Latakia province.
Video posted on social media showed the burning wreckage of a helicopter in an open area. The footage, which NBC News was unable to immediately verify, showed several bodies alongside the mangled aircraft.
Eliot Higgins, a visiting research associate at the Department of War Studies at King's College London, noted that the videos and photos appeared to show an empty rocket pod lying next to the wreckage.
Higgins said on Twitter that the onus would be on Russia to prove that the chopper was in fact delivering humanitarian aid.
In September, Russia began launching airstrikes to support the Syrian regime, which is locked in a years-long civil war against a complex patchwork of rebel groups.
Just last week the United States said it was "deeply concerned" at Russia's plan of a "large-scale humanitarian operation" in Aleppo, where more than 300,000 people remain trapped by fighting.
State Department spokesman John Kirby said Moscow's announcement of corridors for civilians and fighters to leave the city "appears to be a demand for the surrender of opposition groups and the evacuation of Syrian civilians."