Bulgarian helicopter crew home after 145 days in captivity

Bulgarian helicopter crew home after 145 days in captivity

The three appeared in good health but visibly exhausted in neat khaki uniforms as they touched down at Sofia airport yesterday evening, an AFP journalist witnessed.

"We are extremely happy that we are home and will soon join our families," crew captain Branko Chorbadzhiyski said, thanking the United Nations and government and intelligence officials in Sudan and Bulgaria who helped.

The crew was abducted by armed men on January 13 at a landing strip in Um-Shalaya, 60 kilometres southeast of El-Geneina, the capital of West Darfur state.

The World Food Programme which manages the UN Humanitarian Air Service employing the three, said no ransom was paid for their release on Monday.

"No force was used for our freeing," Chorbadzhiyski added.
"A general from Sudan's intelligence services arrived ... yesterday morning, sat down with our kidnappers on a rug in the shadow of a tree, talked for three hours and then told us to pack and board a UN helicopter which flew in to pick us up."

The three said they had "no idea" why they were kidnapped but said their abductors treated them "surprisingly well, considered the fact that we were hostages."

"There was no violence. We still don't know what interests of their own these people were after but they showed respect to us," Chorbadzhiyski said.
The pilots were allowed occasional phone calls home.

Bulgaria's intelligence service chief Kircho Kirov, who accompanied the crew home, and Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, who welcomed them on the tarmac, were tight-lipped about talks for the pilots' release, saying only they were "difficult."

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