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Sun, Sep 25, 2005

Five Dead In Afghanistan CH-47 Crash

Chinook Down In Mountainous Territory

A US Army CH-47 helicopter (file photos of type, below) went down in Deh Chopan district of southeastern Zabul province Saturday. While the area has seen a lot of action, US and Afghan government spokesmen indicated that the crash was not related to enemy action.

The aircraft was returning to its base after dropping off coalition forces that were attempting to seize an enemy leader. "This was not a regular operation," Gulab Shah Ali Khil, a spokesman for the governor of Zabul Province, told the BBC. "They did it because they got some intelligence and went there. The crash took place as they were coming back."

Weather in the area was VFR and is not considered a factor. "The weather was fine," Gulab Shah told the Associated Press. The accident appears to have taken place during the hours of darkness, however; if that is the case the crew would have been operating with night-vision goggles. In Afghanistan, a Chinook normally carries a crew of five.

The CH-47 unit presently in Afghanistan is based in the continental USA.

US Forces are on the ground at the accident location to secure the wreckage. "Afghan troops are trying to reach the crash site, but there are no roads anywhere nearby," Gulab Shah Ali Khil, a spokesman for the governor of Zabul Province, told the Associated Press.

Recovery of the crewmen's remains continues and the Pentagon is taking measures to notify their families. When this grim task is complete, the fallen crewmen will be identified.

Taliban spokesman Mullah Latif Hakimi claimed that Taliban forces shot the aircraft down, but Hakimi's reports have so consistently been inaccurate that even Jayson Blair doesn't report his claims without a warning.

Lt. Col. Jerry O'Hara, a spokesman for Combined Forces Command, Afghanistan, explicitly denied that the aircraft had been under fire. Another U.S. military spokesman, Colonel Jim Yonts said, "People on the ground have just started a preliminary investigation and recovery operations are under way."

Yonts stressed that the aircraft was part of a flight of helicopters, and speculated that the cause may have been a mechanical problem. "Indications are from crew members' … reports that there was no hostile file that caused this crash," he was quoted by Reuters as saying.

Gulab Shah said that there had been no fighting in the area. Deh Chopan (sometimes transliterated Deh-i Chopan or Day Chopan) is the northwestern part of Zabul province, bordering on Oruzgan province.

Oruzgan is the birthplace of deposed Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar and has been a hotbed of anti-government neo-Taliban sentiment. The rugged mountains where Helmand, Oruzgan and Zabul provinces come together have been the scene of numerous small actions since 2002 as Coalition military forces pursue holdout and neo-Taliban and other anti-government elements deeper and deeper into the countryside.

This is the third Chinook loss this year in Afghanistan, where the workhorse chopper is prized for its performance in the high-altitude mountains. In April, a Chinook from F Co, 159th Aviation Battalion "Big Windy" went down in a sandstorm; fifteen American soldiers and three civilians were killed. In late June, an MH-47 special operations variant from the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment crashed after being hit with an RPG-7 antitank round; ten Navy SEALS and the Army crew of six perished, and three men of a four-man team the helicopter was seeking to reinforce or rescue also were lost.

The Afghan theater of operations is unique in the way that its unimaginably rugged terrain, and its decrepit, rudimentary road network, combine to both demand and threaten helicopter operations. Two Spanish Puma helicopters crashed in August near Herat; all aboard one helicopter survived, but all 17 on the other died in the crash and postcrash fire.



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