World

Quebecer among peacekeepers killed in Sinai plane crash

Nine peacekeepers, including a Canadian based in Quebec, were killed in a remote mountainous area of the Sinai Desert in Egypt on Sunday when a plane crashed during a training mission.

Benoît Chevalier of Bagotville remembered as 'extremely personable, thoughtful and professional airman'

Nine peacekeepers, including a Canadian based in Quebec, were killed in a remote mountainous area of the Sinai Desert in Egypt on Sundaywhen a plane crashed during a training mission.

The Canadian, Cpl. Benoît Chevalier, was an air traffic controller with 3-Wing, based in Bagotville, Que., the Department of National Defence said.

Chevalier and the other peacekeepers, who were all citizens of France, were part of a multinational force that has been monitoring the Egyptian-Israeli border for decades.

"Cpl. Chevalier was a highly appreciated and skilled member of the 28 Canadian Forces personnel team assigned to the MFO [Multinational Force and Observers]," said Col. Peter Abbott, the commander of Canadian group.

"He was playing a key role in maintaining the cohesiveness of the Canadian contingent and his comrades regarded him as an extremely personable, thoughtful and professional airman.

Cpl. Chevalier, 25, joined the Canadian military in 2002, and was on duty in Egypt for only a month when he was killed.

In a Sunday statement, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of Chevalier and the other eight French peacekeepers.

Officials said the peacekeepers were travelling in a Canadian-made, French-owned De Havilland DHC-6 Twin Otter plane that had sent a distress signal to the airport in Cairo. The airport then lost contact with the plane.

Capt. Ihab Moheildin, an air control officer at the airport, said the plane had taken off in clear weather at 7:46 a.m. local time from El Gorah base. It was headed to the airport at St. Catherine in the southern Sinai Peninsula.

Moheildin said the airport lost contact with the plane at 9:15 a.m. after receiving a distress signal, indicating a possible mechanical failure.

Plane clipped a truck on highway

Normand St. Pierre, a spokesman for the multinational peacekeeping force, said the aircraft tried to land on a mountain highway but crashed nearby after clipping a truck. The truck driver escaped unharmed, he said.

Truck driver Ahmad Attallah said he heard something slam into the top of his vehicle. When he looked up, he saw a small plane with a trail of flames and smoke flying at a low altitude.

"Then it disappeared and I heard an explosion," he said.

St. Pierre said the crash occurred in the middle of the vast Sinai Peninsula near the village of el-Thamad, about 80 kilometres southeast of a town called Nakhl.

Moheildin said the Egyptian government and the multinational force have started an investigation.

The multinational force was set up after the 1979 Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt andoperates independently of the United Nations.

Canada has been part of the mission since 1986. There are 10 other countries participating: Australia, Colombia, Fiji, France, Hungary, Italy, New Zealand, the United States, Uruguay and Norway.

With files from the Canadian Press