JOHANNESBURG — A police helicopter crashed in South Africa on Friday, killing seven officers on board, as it flew to the scene of a a suspected hostage-taking northeast of Johannesburg, officials said.
Police spokeswoman Sally de Beer said the officers from the National Intervention Unit were leaving the capital Pretoria in the chopper to help local police in the town of Witbank when the accident happened.
"There was a business break-in at about 5:00 am (0300 GMT). Witbank police responded but they were shot at by the suspects who also said they had a hostage with them," she said.
De Beer said two helicopters with a total of 12 people were sent to the scene, but one of them crashed.
"There was a thick mist in the area at the time of the crash, but we don't want to say that is the reason it crashed until we finish our investigation."
Seven people were arrested over the break-in, but police discovered that no hostage had actually been taken, she said.
A spokesman for ER24 private emergency services, Werner Vermaak, said paramedics who arrived at the scene found the helicopter burnt beyond recognition.
"The local fire department and rescue services extinguished the flames. All of the occupants were already dead and there was nothing that paramedics could do," said Vermaak.
National police chief Bheki Cele told radio 702 that he was in shock.
"It is a really black Friday for us," Cele said. "It's a very devastating and painful situation. I personally know them all too."
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