MOSCOW : All 14 passengers survived a close brush with death on Monday when their helicopter crashed in the far east of Russia - a rare happy ending for a country prone to aviation disasters. The Mi-8 helicopter, which included 11 forest firefighters among its passengers, crashed near the village of Chekunda in the Khabarovsk region, the Federal Forestry Agency said. “They got in touch and said they were alive,” a spokeswoman for the agency, Yulia Vasyutinskaya, told AFP. She did not provide further details.

Regional investigators had earlier reported that the helicopter had crashed and burned, and that a team of investigators was heading to the site. Deadly aviation disasters are common in Russia, often blamed on ageing aircraft and poor maintenance. Aviation experts say the Soviet-era Mi-8 has an especially poor safety record.