NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Authorities have found DNA evidence that five more people may have been on board a U.S. military helicopter that crashed during a humanitarian relief mission after the Nepal earthquake, a U.S. military spokesman said.
Investigators were exploring the possibility that the five new suspected victims of the crash were villagers picked up by the helicopter during its relief mission, a Nepali army spokesman said.
The helicopter and its crew were part of the large international aid effort after a massive earthquake and major aftershock struck Nepal on April 25 and May 12, killing more than 8,600 people and making hundreds of thousands homeless.
Six U.S. Marines and two Nepali soldiers are known to have died in the crash, the cause of which has yet to be determined.
"While no positive identification has yet been made, there is DNA evidence of five individuals in addition to the six U.S. Marines and two Nepalese soldiers who have already been identified," said Lt. Col. Rob James, a public affairs officer for the U.S. Marines, in a statement to Reuters.
The Nepal Army said the new remains were found on May 25, 10 days after the bodies of the soldiers were found among the wreckage of a U.S. Marine Corps UH-1Y helicopter that went down in the mountains northeast of the capital Kathmandu.
Earlier this week, Nepalese media reported that five people from devastated villages in Dolakha district had gone missing after boarding an unidentified aid helicopter.
A team of U.S. and Nepalese medical and forensic experts are performing DNA tests on the remains to identify all of the victims in tandem with the joint investigation by both militaries into the crash.
Brigadier General Jagadish Chandra Pokharel, spokesman for the Nepal Army, said DNA from the five would be sent to the United States for testing along with DNA samples from relatives of the missing villagers to see it there is a match.
The U.S. military did not comment on whether it had any prior indication that there may have been additional passengers on board the aircraft.
"We are all committed to ensuring all remains - whether U.S. or Nepalese - are positively identified," James said.
(Reporting by Krista Mahr in New Delhi and Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)