(CNN) -- Maoist guerrillas shot down a Peruvian Air Force helicopter, killing two airmen and wounding a third, the nation's defense minister has said.
The helicopter was trying to evacuate three soldiers wounded in a rebel ambush Wednesday and was possibly hit by machine-gun fire, Defense Minister Rafael Rey was quoted as saying in the state-run Andina news agency.
The wounded soldiers were not evacuated and another rescue effort will be made Thursday, the RPP national radio network said on its web site.
The dead airmen were identified as the pilot and co-pilot, both of whom held the rank of major. A crew member was wounded.
The helicopter was a few feet off the ground and attempting a landing when the rebels hit the aircraft's rotor, causing the chopper to crash and come to rest upside down, Rey said.
The attack by the Sendero Luminoso guerrillas occurred in the central Peruvian highlands of the Andes Mountains.
The Sendero Luminoso, known in English as Shining Path, terrorized Peru during the 1980s but its ranks began to thin when top leaders were captured in the 1990s. The rebels have been making a resurgence in recent months. Two soldiers and at least four Maoist guerrillas were killed in a firefight in late August. In April, the guerrillas ambushed an army patrol and killed 14 soldiers.
Sendero declared war on the government in 1980, and carried out bombings and assassinations that by official accounts killed more than 30,000 Peruvians during the next 20 years. Another 30,000 Peruvians died at the hands of the government and paramilitary groups in the fight against the Sendero, a government commission determined in 2003.
At the heart of Sendero's power lies its alliance with Peru's estimated 300,000 coca growers and drug traffickers, who often pay the guerrillas for security, intelligence and logistics.
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