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Zimbabwe opposition leader dies in US helicopter crash

Thursday, January 18, 2018

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ALBUQUERQUE, New Mexico (AP) — Authorities in the US state of New Mexico say key Zimbabwean opposition leader Roy Bennett has been killed in a helicopter crash.

State Police Lt Elizabeth Armijo confirmed Bennett's death Thursday, a day after a helicopter carrying him and five others went down in a mountainous rural area of northern New Mexico.

Details of why the 60-year-old Bennett was in the area weren't immediately available. The crash killed five and injured a sixth person aboard.

Obert Gutu, spokesman for the MDC-T opposition party, said the loss of Bennett, a white man who spoke fluent Shona and drew the wrath of former President Robert Mugabe, was tragic. Gutu says Bennett's wife, Heather, also died.

Bennett won a parliamentary seat in a rural constituency despite being white, angering Mugabe and his ruling ZANU-PF party.

He won a devoted following of black Zimbabweans for passionately advocating political change. He was known as "Pachedu," meaning "one of us" in Shona and was often called the sharpest thorn in Mugabe's side.

The helicopter went down about 6:00 pm Wednesday about 15 miles (24 kilometers) east of the small city of Raton near the Colorado state line.

Local authorities received a 911 call from a victim of the crash who reported the incident, State Police said.

Also killed were: pilot Jamie Coleman Dodd, 57, of Trinidad, Colorado; co-pilot Paul Cobb, 67, of Conroe, Texas; Charles Ryland Burnett, 61, of Houston.

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