- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 6, 2005

KABUL, Afghanistan — A U.S. military helicopter returning from a mission went down in the southern Afghan desert yesterday, killing at least 16 persons in the deadliest military crash since the fall of the Taliban regime in late 2001. An Afghan official said most of the dead appeared to be Americans.

The CH-47 Chinook was returning to the U.S. base at Bagram from a mission in the militant-beset south when it went down near Ghazni city, 80 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul.

“Indications are it was bad weather and that there were no survivors,” said a U.S. spokeswoman, Lt. Cindy Moore. An Afghan official said there were no signs that the craft was shot down.

The U.S. military said 16 deaths had been confirmed and two listed on the flight manifest were “unaccounted for” when the recovery operation was suspended at nightfall.

U.S. officials said the four crew members killed were Americans, but declined to give the nationalities of the passengers. The names of the victims were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

Lt. Moore said the transport helicopter was returning from a “routine mission” when controllers lost radio contact. A second Chinook made it safely back to the sprawling base north of Kabul.

Abdul Rahman Sarjang, the chief of police in Ghazni, said the helicopter crashed about 2:30 p.m. near a brick factory three miles outside the city and burst into flames. U.S. troops rushed to cordon off the area.

Mr. Sarjang said he saw nine bodies. “They were all wearing American uniforms and they were all dead,” he told the Associated Press by cell phone from the crash site.

He said the weather was cloudy, with strong winds, and that witnesses reported one of the helicopter’s two rotors looked damaged before it hit the ground. He said he saw no sign of enemy fire, and militants issued no claim of responsibility.

According to Pentagon statistics, at least 122 U.S. troops had died before yesterday’s incident in and around Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom, the U.S.-led war on terrorism, began after the September 11, 2001, attacks.

The previous worst incident in Afghanistan was an accidental explosion at an arms dump in Ghazni province that killed eight American soldiers in January 2004.

Most recently, four U.S. soldiers died when a land mine exploded under their vehicle south of Kabul on March 26.

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