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Belarussians Kill 2 U.S. Balloonists

The Belarussian military shot down a helium balloon during an international race, killing its two American pilots, Belarus and U.S. officials said Wednesday.

The Clinton administration complained that it wasn’t notified for a full day.

Belarussian authorities said the Americans, flying close to an air base and a missile site Tuesday near the Polish border, didn’t respond to a radio call or warning shots fired by a military helicopter.

The names of the two Americans were withheld pending notification of their relatives.

The helium balloon was hit near the village of Beryioza, but it wasn’t immediately clear how the craft was downed, according to the U.S. Embassy in Minsk. The wreckage and the bodies were found several hours later in a wooded area, the Russian news agency ITAR-Tass said.

A second U.S. balloon competing in the the annual Gordon Bennett gas balloon race was forced to land, but its two-man crew was unharmed, said Nicholas Burns, a State Department spokesman.

“This is so senseless. We are not talking about people on a spy mission here,” said Ruth Ludwig, editor of Ballooning, the journal of the Balloon Federation of America. “It’s the most benign thing people could do, float around the sky.”


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