Roy Bennett, Zimbabwean opposition figure, dies in helicopter crash

  • Roy Bennett, Zimbabwean opposition figure, dies in helicopter crash

Roy Bennett, Zimbabwean opposition figure, dies in helicopter crash

RATON, N.M. (AP) — Authorities say a helicopter has crashed in rural northern New Mexico near the state line with Colorado.

The couple are said to have died in a helicopter accident, but at this stage it's not been confirmed exactly where this happened.

New Mexico State Police got a 911 call Wednesday evening, January 17, from one of the victims, but they were not able to tell dispatchers their exact location.

He was killed in a tragic helicopter crash in Canada together with his wife Heather. One person survived the crash, whose cause was not yet known.

Roy Bennett, 60, treasurer-general of the Morgan Tsvangirai's Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition party, won a devoted following of black Zimbabweans for passionately advocating political change.

He went into exile in South Africa almost 10 years ago after years of struggling against the government of Robert Mugabe. Here is the report from the New Mexico State Police on the crash.

Raton is 175 miles (282 kilometers) northeast of Albuquerque.

In Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, who is a prominent opposition leader and a former finance minister, said that the Bennett's "tragic passing" was "a blow to our struggle", according to The Guardian.

BBC News reported that Bennett was a former white farmer who entered politics in 2000.

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. "Wreckage was spotted in a rancher's property east of Raton".

Roy Bennett on 9 November 2009 in Harare, Zimbabwe.

David Coltart, a former Zimbabwean education minister, said he was devastated and at a loss for words.

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) reportedly said the helicopter crash occurred in a remote, mountainous area at about 6pm on Wednesday evening.

In 2004 Roy Bennett was jailed for a year for assaulting a Cabinet minister who had said Bennett's "forefathers were thieves and murderers" during a parliamentary debate.

At the time of his death, Mr Bennett was in self-imposed exile after he skipped the country when law enforcement authorities charged him with "conspiring to acquire arms with a view to disrupting essential services".

He emerged from prison rail-thin and scarred from repeated sunburns. Mugabe, who had repeatedly alleged Bennett was the opposition party's contact with foreign funders, refused to swear him in.

Fearing another arrest on trumped up charges, Bennett fled Zimbabwe and moved to South Africa.