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Helicopter Crashes in Philippines Crew Believed Dead After Army Chopper Crashes into the Sea

By Thomas E. Ricks
THE WASHINGTON POST -- A U.S. Army Special Operations helicopter crashed into the sea in the southern Philippines, possibly killing at least 10 people, marking the first U.S. military casualties in the Southeast Asian theater of the U.S. war against terrorism, the Pentagon said Thursday.

A search by a companion helicopter and Navy and Air Force aircraft found no survivors, military spokesmen said. They said there were no reports that the MH-47 helicopter was knocked down by hostile fire.

“We haven’t found any survivors yet,” said Navy Cmdr. Jeff Davis, who added that searches were continuing. “They have sighted some bodies.” He said a Navy P-3 surveillance aircraft and an Air Force C-130 cargo plane were involved in that effort.

If all 10 people aboard the helicopter are dead, it would mark the single biggest loss of life suffered by the U.S. military since the beginning of the war in October. The casualties would be the first the United States has suffered in its campaign in the Philippines, which is part of the global counteroffensive against al-Qaida and related groups in the aftermath of September’s terrorist attacks.

The names of those aboard the helicopter weren’t released. The aircraft belongs to the Army’s 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, based at Fort Campbell, Ky., Davis said, but he added that the crew of the crashed aircraft almost certainly was based overseas, rather than at Fort Campbell.

The crash occurred at 2:30 a.m. Friday, local time (1:30 p.m. Thursday EST), as the 50-foot-long cargo helicopter was flying in darkness from Basilan Island, where U.S. Special Forces have been moving this week as part of an effort to help the Philippine military eradicate a local Muslim extremist group that has links to the al-Qaida network.

Officials said the helicopter was en route to Mactan Air Base on the island of Cebu, which U.S. forces have been using as a logistics hub for a major six-month-long anti-terrorism training exercise that is now getting underway.