Helicopter downed in Iraq, nine dead - US Sources
BAGHDAD - An Mi-8 commercial helicopter was shot down in Iraq on Thursday and all nine people aboard are believed to have been killed, U.S. military sources said.
The Russian-built aircraft was flying just north of Baghdad when it was hit, possibly by a rocket-propelled grenade, one source said. Reuters Television received footage of a helicopter that had been shot down in the area and which was still on fire.
The military sources said three crew and six passengers, all civilians, were on board. Their nationalities were not known, although it was believed that the crew may have been Bulgarian.
The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry in Sofia said it had no information on any incident.
"It was a contract aircraft that was not being used by the military, although the Mi-8 is also a military helicopter," the source in Iraq said.
"We are trying to investigate right now what happened, but we believe it was shot by small arms fire, possibly by a rocket-propelled grenade," he said.
Russia's twin-engined Mi-8 has been the transport workhorse of military and civilian fleets for more than 30 years. It has a crew of three and can carry up to 24 passengers.
Footage received by Reuters showed mangled and burning wreckage, including rotor blades, in a desert area north of the capital, near the town of Tarmiya.
At least two charred bodies could be seen near the site. The bulk of the aircraft was burned almost beyond recognition, although what appeared to be two engines were also visible.
Insurgents frequently fire on U.S. aircraft in Iraq and have brought down several helicopters in the past. A U.S. Chinook transporter was shot down west of Baghdad in November 2003, killing at least 16 U.S. troops.
Ten British troops died on Jan. 30 when a C-130 Hercules transport plane came down north of Baghdad. The cause remains unclear but officials have said it may have been shot down.