(Reuters) - Exiled Zimbabwe opposition leader Roy Bennett and four other people were killed in a helicopter crash in a remote northern part of the U.S. state of New Mexico, officials and his political party said on Thursday.
The crash of a private Huey helicopter in rugged terrain near Raton, New Mexico, on Wednesday evening killed Bennett, 60, along with his wife, Heather Bennett, 55, James Coleman Dodd, 57, of Colorado, Charles Ryland Burnett, 61, of Texas and Paul Cobb, 67, of Texas, New Mexico State Police said.
Bennett, a former treasurer general of the opposition MDC party, was an important figure in Zimbabwean politics and served time in prison under former President Robert Mugabe. He recently told CNN that his country would never again let itself be ruled by a dictatorship.
"Roy was a resolute and committed fighter for democratic change in Zimbabwe," the MDC said in a statement.
The party described Bennett as a charismatic grassroots politician and successful farmer in the country's eastern Chimanimani District. He was fluent in Zimbabwe's Shona language, it said, and had helped hundreds of impoverished villagers pay school fees for their children.
Though white, Bennett fought for the rights of black Zimbabweans, the party said, and had the nickname "Pachedu," a Shona word that translates as "together" or "one of us."
The National Transportation Safety Board said it was investigating the crash 15 miles (24 km) east of Raton.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Daniel Wallis)