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US marine helicopter crash kills 31 in Iraq
Updated: 2005-01-26 22:23

BAGHDAD, Iraq - A US Marine helicopter transporting troops crashed Wednesday in the desert of western Iraq, killing 31 people, American military officials said. It was the deadliest crash of a U.S. military helicopter in Iraq.

A U.S. Marine from the 3rd. Light Armoured Reconnaissance, prays at a security checkpoint after he and his comrades came under attack by mortar fire in the western Iraq, in this November 18, 2004, file photograph. A U.S. helicopter crash in western Iraq Wednesday killed 31 American Marines, CNN reported, quoting military officials. [Reuters]
A Pentagon source said the helicopter was a CH-53 Sea Stallion, which is normally configured to carry 37 passengers, but can take up to 55. There was no immediate word on how many people were on board or what caused the crash.

The military officials did not specify the nationalities of those on board or say how many were soldiers.

It was the biggest loss of life in a helicopter crash in Iraq — and could be the deadliest single incident for American forces since the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003.

The helicopter went down about 1:20 a.m. near the town of Rutbah, about 220 miles west of Baghdad, while conducting security operations, the military said in a statement. The aircraft was transporting personnel from the 1st Marine Division.

A search and rescue team has reached the site and an investigation into what caused the crash is underway, the military said.

"We can confirm casualties, but not what type or numbers yet," a U.S. spokesman, Lt. Col. Steven Boylan, said.

Previously, the deadliest incident involving U.S. troops was a Nov. 15, 2003, crash of two Black Hawk helicopters that collided while trying to avoid ground fire in Mosul, killing 17 U.S. soldiers and wounding five.

Earlier that month, a Chinook transport helicopter was shot down by shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missile near Fallujah, killing 16 American soldiers and wounding 26.

The U.S. military has lost at least 33 helicopters since the start of the war, including at least 20 brought down by hostile fire, according to a study by the Brookings Institution.

The deadliest day for American troops during the initial invasion of Iraq was March 23, 2003, when 26 Americans were killed in a number of separate incidents. President Bush declared major combat over on May 1, 2003, but fighting has continued.

Last month, a suicide bomb exploded at a mess tent in a base near Mosul, killing 22 people including 14 U.S. soldiers and three American contractors.

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