Roy Bennett dies in helicopter crash

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FILE - This Oct. 16, 2009 file photo shows Senior Zimbabwean MDC opposition official Roy Bennett, left, and his wife Heather, relax at a friends home in Mutare about 200 km east of Harare, following his release from prison. A fiery helicopter crash killed Bennett and his wife, while on holiday in a remote part of the U.S. state of New Mexico and four others aboard, friends and authorities said. (AP Photo/Tsvangirayi Mukwazhi,File)

Roy Bennett, a prominent Zimbabwean opposition figure, has been killed with his wife in a helicopter crash in the US state of New Mexico.

Local police confirmed Bennett’s death on 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 were not immediately available. The crash killed five people including Bennett’s wife Heather, and injured a sixth person who raised the alarm.

In Zimbabwe, Tendai Biti, a prominent opposition leader and a former finance minister, tweeted that the Bennett’s “tragic passing” was “a blow to our struggle”.

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

The injured victim of the crash called 911 after the helicopter went down and authorities launched a search. They said the response was slow because of the rugged terrain and remote area, which has few roads.

Engulfed in flames, the wreckage was spotted on the ranch property east of the small community of Raton. The fire had charred a large area around the crash site.

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

Bennett, a white former farmer, was known as “Pachedu”, meaning “one of us” in Shona and was often called the sharpest thorn in the side of former president Robert Mugabe.

He emerged from prison rail-thin and scarred from repeated sunburns. He told of the mistreatment of fellow prisoners, some of whom he said had starved to death in their cells.

After receiving death threats, Bennett fled Zimbabwe but returned in 2009 after his party nominated him for the deputy agriculture minister in a coalition government with Mugabe’s Zanu-PF. Mugabe, who had repeatedly alleged Bennett was the opposition party’s contact with foreign funders, refused to swear him in.

Bennett later returned to South Africa but remained a vocal critic of Mugabe’s rule. He also criticized his former party for allegedly enjoying the comforts of government while ordinary Zimbabweans suffered. Source www.theguardian.com

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