Russian helicopter crashes at 'Kremlin' resort: report
A helicopter that crashed Sunday killing two in southern Russia was building a ski lift at a supposed secret holiday spot of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a report said Monday.
A representative of the helicopter company said Monday that the Ka-32 helicopter was transporting construction materials to build a ski lift at Lunnaya Polyana in the Caucasus mountains.
Lunnaya Polyana, or "moon meadow," is officially a scientific research centre, but Russian opposition media have reported that the Kremlin oversaw construction at the site and that Putin has holidayed there.
"The Ka-32 had delivered a load and was headed for the next one. They are building a ski lift," an unnamed spokesman for Aero-Kamov told the RIA Novosti news agency, adding that three helicopters were working at the site.
The report was a rare confirmation in state media of reports that the pristine Lunnaya Polyana area is being used for recreation by top officials including Putin.
Helicopters were used to haul water to fill a swimming pool before Putin visited to ski in spring 2006, according to the New Times magazine.
Russian media have reported that the centre was built on Putin's orders by the office of presidential affairs, which manages property of the Kremlin and other government bodies.
Russian environmentalists have long criticized a 2006 decision that legalised construction on the land, which is part of a United Nations-protected zone.
The crash on Sunday, in which two of three crew members died, was the latest of a string of helicopter accidents in the remote area, which critics say point to its use for recreation.
Twelve people have died in such accidents in the area since 2003, environmentalist Valery Brinikh of the International Socio-Environmental Union, said Monday.
"Not one of these catastrophes would have happened without a VIP resort ... that requires constant air transportation," Brinikh, who is also a former director of the Caucasus nature reserve, said in a statement.
UNESCO has repeatedly warned that construction of recreational facilities violates the area's status as a World Heritage site and should be abandoned.
The scientific centre should only be used "for management, research and monitoring... and not be converted into a recreational facility," the World Heritage Committee said in 2008.
© 2010 AFP