Firefighters recovered four bodies from the wreckage of the aircraft. AP photo
Four police officers have died after their helicopter crashed over Rio de Janeiro’s notorious City of God favela.
In video footage of the crash, sustained gunfire can be heard before the helicopter drops from the sky like a stone, narrowly missing a main road.
The helicopter was giving support to a police operation against gangs in the favela, according to police.
There had been several clashes during the day between police and criminal gangs operating in the area.
Firefighters removed the bodies of the victims from the wreckage, which could be seen in the footage crumpled and smoking.
A police spokesman said that forensics officers were examining the wreckage to determine the cause of the crash.
If the helicopter was shot down by gang members, it would not be a first for the city, which hosted the 2016 Olympics.
In 2009, drug traffickers opened fire on a police helicopter, causing it to explode and crash land on a football pitch, killing both pilots.
Violence has been on the rise in Rio over the past two years following the failure of a 2010 programme to rid the favelas of drug gangs.
A total of 3,649 murders were reported in 2016 up until the end of September, a rise of almost 18% on the same period last year.
The Associted Press
A police helicopter crashed on Saturday night in Rio de Janeiro, killing four officers, after a day of intense firefights with suspected criminals in the slum known as City of God.
It was not clear whether the helicopter was hit by gunfire or whether another factor caused it to crash. Police said they were investigating what happened.
Amateur video sent to local television stations showed the aircraft spinning as it appeared to plummet straight down. The helicopter fell in a populated area near City of God, but crashed in an open space near a major highway.
Crime and violence has been sweeping across Rio, just months after Brazil’s second biggest city hosted the Olympics.
An economic recession, rising unemployment and overstretched public finances have emboldened criminal gangs in areas like City of God, one of the best known of the city’s so-called favelas, sprawling slums which stretch across vast suburbs and climb up the scenic hillsides of central Rio.
In recent years, police had successfully pushed out drug traffickers and other gangs from many favelas.
However, crime is now worsening just as the state government, which is responsible for most of the security across a region of more than 16 million people, faces an expected budget shortfall of about 20 billion reais ($5.91 billion).
The murder rate across Rio in September soared nearly 18 per cent from the same period a year earlier to 3,649 reported deaths, according to state statistics.
Street crimes, including heists on public transport, surged by 44 per cent to nearly 92,000 reported incidents.
Though crime in Rio remains far lower than its peak in the 1980s and 90s, recent firefights and the crash on Saturday recalled periods when the city erupted in conflict.
In 2009, drug traffickers shot down a helicopter, killing two crew members, as police sought to “pacify” favelas ahead of the Olympics and 2014 World Cup.
The incident was the first downing of an aircraft by criminals in Rio and showed the challenge faced by law enforcers in a city where heavily-armed gangs increasingly possess enough firepower to contend with state security forces.
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