Spain holds state funeral for 17 soldiers killed in Afghanistan
King Juan Carlos and other members of Spain's royal family led mourners at a state funeral Saturday for 17 Spanish soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan, AP reported.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, members of his Cabinet and other high-ranking politicians attended the service at the Spanish army's headquarters in Madrid.
Queen Sofia hugged relatives of the dead soldiers. Some were so overcome by grief they had to leave parts of the ceremony.
A poignant moment came when the king assisted soldier Susana Perez Torres in laying a medal on the coffin of her husband, Sgt. Alfredo Francisco Joga.
The crash on Tuesday killed 17 Spanish troops, NATO's largest single loss of life in Afghanistan.
A second Spanish helicopter flying alongside at the time of the accident was forced to make an emergency landing, injuring five soldiers on board.
The government declared two days of national mourning after the bodies arrived back in Spain in flag-draped coffins on Thursday evening. Flags on public buildings and on naval warships were ordered lowered to half-staff on Friday.
The Spanish soldiers were part of the NATO-led security force preparing for next month's parliamentary elections in Afghanistan.
Investigators have so far found no evidence that the helicopter was downed by hostile fire, favoring instead the theory that a strong gust of wind may have forced it down while flying at high speed close to the ground.
In May 2003, 62 Spanish peacekeepers returning home from Afghanistan died when their Russian-built YAK-42 plane crashed in northwest Turkey. A political row erupted when mistakes were made in identifying many of the bodies and some families were given the wrong remains.
The families of soldiers killed in Tuesday's crash said they were satisfied with identification procedures.
Spain has about 800 troops taking part in the NATO operation in Afghanistan. These were the first Spanish deaths inside Afghanistan during the mission.