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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (December 5, 2000 - (Oceania Flash/SPC)---French Civil Aviation, helicopter builders Eurocopter et Turbo Méca, and a legal representative have begun an official investigation into the cause of the helicopter crash that killed top nickel mining executives last week, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

The three experts have started working on the wrecked fuselage of the helicopter which crashed on Tuesday last week in Northern Canala’s mountainous bush, killing SMSP (Société Minière du Sud Pacifique) nickel company Chairman, Kanak Raphaël Pidjot, three other top executives, a Canadian representative of the Falconbridge nickel company, a Frenchman locally employed by Falconbridge, and the pilot.

Meanwhile, French gendarmes are still gathering information from local eyewitnesses, including two young men who were on a hunting party when they saw the helicopter hit the trees, crash and explode.

Last Friday, two other experts from BEA (French Bureau Enquête Accident-Accident Investigation Office, which also recently investigated the Paris Concorde tragedy) started work at the crash site.

They were accompanied by Judge Durand, who is in charge of the case. The BEA experts are to submit their report directly to the French Ministry of Transport.

Hypotheses into the possible cause of the crash range so far from bad weather to technical failure and human error.

Meanwhile, an estimated 3,000 – 4,000 persons (including top political leaders from both the pro and anti-independence parties, FLNKS and RPCR) attended Pidjot’s funeral near Nouméa.

French Secretary of State for Overseas Territories Christian Paul, who had met Pidjot two months ago, sent a representative from Paris.

Falconbridge also dispatched two of its vice-presidents and Mitsubishi’s Japanese head office sent one representative.



NOUMEA, New Caledonia (December 5, 2000 - (Oceania Flash/SPC)---Two members of the New Zealand Cabinet have arrived in the French territory of New Caledonia as part of a one-week Pacific familiarization tour, RFO-radio reports.

The New Zealand coalition government’s foreign affairs and trade minister Phil Goff and conservation minister Sandra Lee are to spend two days in New Caledonia, where they are to meet top political and socio-economic leaders on the French territory.

High on the agenda are talks with top officials, including the French government’s representative, High Commissioner Thierry Lataste, and local government President Jean Lèques.

They are also to visit a fish farm in Koné (Northern Province) and meet High Chiefs and municipal councilors on the three Loyalty Islands (Maré, Lifou and Ouvéa).

Goff also said differences between New Zealand and France over nuclear testing are "a thing of the past," adding Wellington now is seeking to "build a closer relationship with New Caledonia."

New Zealand and France have experienced tension in their relationships in recent years, first regarding the sinking of the Greenpeace Rainbow Warrior in New Zealand in 1985 and ten years later due to the resumption of nuclear testing on the French Polynesian atolls of Moruroa and Fangataufa.

The tests ended in early 1996 and the French Centre d’Expérimentation du Pacifique (CEP) was dismantled.

One of the goals of the visit is to ensure New Zealand MPs are "better informed about the Pacific" and "build a relationship" with neighboring island countries and territories.

Also on the agenda are matters related to regional security and growing instability in the region.

The two ministers are leading a delegation consisting of seven members of the New Zealand parliament and 14 representatives of Non-Governmental Organization (NGOs), as well as academics and public servants.

Goff and Lee are to leave New Caledonia on Tuesday for the neighboring island state of Vanuatu, where they will meet Prime minister Barak Sope on a two-day visit December 5-7.

They will then fly to Tonga, where they will spend two days (December 7-9) and are scheduled to meet King Taufa‘ahau Tupou IV.

Their Pacific tour will end on Niue, which they will visit December 9-10.

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