UN seeks Russian crew from Congo helicopter crash

KINSHASA, March 11 (Reuters) - Rescue workers struggled on Monday to reach the wreckage of a United Nations helicopter which crashed in the forests of eastern Congo with four Russian crew members on board, a U.N. spokesman said.

The helicopter crashed on Saturday on a thickly wooded mountainside around 30 km (18 miles) west of Bukavu airport, spokesman Biliaminou Alao told Reuters.

"The area is difficult to access, they're going to have to climb the mountain to get to the crash site," he said, adding that around 40 rescuers were trekking to there on foot, accompanied by Congolese military.

"We've heard nothing from the crew, there's no communications network in that area... but I remain hopeful," Alao said.

The helicopter was flying from the town of Shabunda when it crashed just six minutes from Bukavu airport, in an area known as treacherous for aircraft due to volatile weather conditions and the high altitude.

The United Nations has an estimated 17,000 peacekeepers in Congo, and operates its own extensive aviation network to counter an almost total lack of roads in the vast central African country.

Air accidents are common in Congo and in 2011 a U.N. passenger plane crashed in the capital Kinshasa, killing all but one of the 33 people on board.

At least five people were killed when a twin-propeller plane crashed last week as it tried to land in bad weather in the town of Goma, north of Bukavu. (Reporting by Jonny Hogg; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Michael Roddy)