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Investigation of German helicopter in Mali could take months

A German Tiger helicopter in Mali.German investigators may need months to determine what caused an Airbus military helicopter to crash during a peacekeeping mission in Mali, killing both crew members, defence ministry spokesman Jens Flosdorff said on Wednesday.

German military authorities were working closely with U.N. officials, the manufacturer and other countries that operate the helicopters after an interim report by the Germany military showed that the Tiger helicopter began to break up while in flight, losing its rotor, Flosdorff said.

Airbus declined comment on the interim report.

"We are aware of the interim report and are committed to support the investigation as and when required by the authorities – in the meantime, we will not comment further," an Airbus spokesman said.

Flosdorff told a news conference that both parts of the helicopter's flight data and cockpit voice recorders had been retrieved, but only one could be analysed. He said it was unclear what caused the rotor to come off as the helicopter went down in a steep descent.

Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on Wednesday there were no indications that it "had to do with the training of the pilots."

An in-air break-up could suggest that maintenance or manufacturing issues contributed to the crash, although the report said it was too early to speculate about any causes.

The deployment of the Tiger helicopters to Mali earlier this year was controversial since the aircraft required extra maintenance given the high heat in the desert country but officials said at the time the four vehicles had been performing normally.

The report said the aircraft had been flying at 250 kilometres (155 miles) per hour at a height of 550 metres (1,800 feet) when it "suddenly sank its nose and entered a sharp dive." The helicopter crashed 10 seconds later and burst into flame.

Germany agreed to deploy the four Tiger and four NH-90 transport helicopters to Mali earlier this year after the Dutch military said it could not continue the work.

But Germany's increased support was heavily debated in parliament, and required a waiver from the German military allowing the helicopters to operate in higher temperatures.

German armed forces operate a fleet of 27 of the helicopters.