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Rio gangs shoot down police chopper, 2 cops dead
RIO DE JANEIRO — A police helicopter flying over an intense shootout between rival drug gangs in a Rio slum was hit by gunfire Saturday and crashed in a fiery explosion on a football field.
Two officers were killed while the pilot and another officer on board suffered burns but managed to escape, a police spokesman said.
Bullets flying from the Morro dos Macacos ("Monkey Hill" in Portuguese) slum in northern Rio de Janeiro hit the pilot in the leg as he hovered above the clash, causing him to lose control and crash, turning the helicopter into a blackened wreck.
Officials said they did not know if somebody targeted the helicopter or if was hit by stray bullets, but the dramatic downing of the helicopter came only two weeks after Rio won the 2016 Olympic games amid major security concerns.
The official — speaking on condition of anonymity as he wasn't authorized to discuss the event — at first said all four people in the helicopter had escaped alive, but later said two of those aboard had died. The pilot and the other officer who escaped were hospitalized and expected to survive.
Images broadcast by Globo TV showed the helicopter burning, with little more than charred pieces of wreckage left after the fire was doused.
Rio police frequently use helicopters to take on gangs that dominate drug trafficking in the city's more than 1,000 slums, but were unable to say whether this was the first time one of their helicopters had been shot down by gangs that use illicit military-grade weapons for combat against their rivals and authorities.
The crash happened about five miles (eight kilometers) southwest of one of the zones where Rio's 2016 Olympic will be located. The city on Oct. 2 bested Chicago, Madrid and Tokyo for the games. Rio alone among the bid cities was highlighted for security concerns ahead of the International Olympic Committee vote.
The crash followed firefights that broke out as a gang tried to seize a rival's territory in the slum, authorities said.
Police moved into the area before dawn, though gunfire continued throughout the day.
Authorities said they found the bodies of three presumed drug traffickers in a vehicle in the slum, though it was not immediately clear if those homicides were related to the shootout.
Violence also broke out Saturday in another slum, where television footage showed at least three buses set afire and motorists fleeing for cover from bursts of gunfire by presumed drug traffickers. Police gave no immediate details of those events, though gangs sometimes set buses aflame to protest police operations.
Despite increased policing efforts, Rio remains one of the world's most dangerous cities. The violence generally is contained within slum areas, though it sometimes spills into posh beach neighborhoods and periodically shuts down the highway that links the international airport to tourist destinations.