By Bonnie Malkin and agencies
Last Updated: 1:39am GMT 20/12/2007
Squeezing down a chimney should be the most dangerous feat faced by Father Christmas, but one Santa has faced a far more deadly task this year: negotiating a hail of bullets.
Drug traffickers in a Rio de Janeiro slum opened fire on a helicopter carrying a man dressed as Santa to a children’s party. It is understood they mistook the aircraft for a police helicopter.
A favela in Rio
Rio de Janeiro has more than 700 slums
“They thought it was a police operation and started shooting. Luckily, nobody was hurt,” a police official said.
The helicopter had to return to its base after the attack. Two bullet holes were found in its fuselage.
Police said the pilot, contracted to take an actor dressed as Santa to the party in the Nova Mare slum, was flying over the neighbouring Vila Joao shantytown when it was fired upon on Sunday.
Santa later returned to Nova Mare by car to distribute Christmas presents, where more than 1,000 children and parents were waiting for his arrival.
The president of the local residents’ association said the children were very sad as they had expected Santa to arrive by helicopter.
Most of Rio’s 700-plus slums are controlled by drug traffickers and are not regularly patrolled by police, who instead go into the slums in military-style raids, often using helicopters and armoured vehicles.
Earlier this year, a police officer was shot and killed as he travelled in a helicopter over one of the city’s shanty towns.