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7 Americans Among 16 Killed in Copter Crash

April 08, 2001|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

HANOI — Sixteen people, including seven U.S. military experts, were killed when their helicopter crashed in central Vietnam on Saturday while on a mission to search for the remains of American servicemen killed during the Vietnam War.

Nine Vietnamese also were on the helicopter and died in the crash. Local authorities began recovering the bodies early today.

The midafternoon accident occurred in Quang Binh province, about 250 miles south of Hanoi, the capital.

The U.S. military experts were part of an effort called the Joint Task Force--Full Accounting, which attempts to recover the remains of Vietnam War servicemen who are still listed as missing in action, said Lt. Col. Stephen Barger, a spokesman for the Hawaii-based U.S. Pacific Command.

The task force reports to the Pacific Command.

"American and Vietnamese officials are taking appropriate actions to recover and identify those aboard and notify next of kin," the command said.

The accident is under investigation, the statement said.

U.S. Embassy spokesman David Monk said U.S. officials were on their way to the site.

Monk said the team involved in the crash was making a preliminary visit to a possible MIA recovery site to determine whether it was worth excavating.

President Bush expressed sorrow over the crash.

"The families of the service personnel lost in today's tragic accident know better than most the contribution their loved ones made in bringing closure to scores of families across America," the president said in a statement issued at the White House.

The sky was somewhat hazy when the helicopter crashed near Thanh Tranh village in Quang Binh province's Bo Trach district, Vietnamese officials said.

The aircraft reportedly left Vinh, a major port in the panhandle of northern Vietnam, at 3:15 p.m. and had been scheduled to stop at Dong Hoi, Quang Binh's provincial capital, before heading south to Hue.

The Pacific Command reported that the team was in a Russian-made MI-17 helicopter--used on a contract basis--on a mission "preparing for a recovery operation involving unaccounted-for Americans lost during the Vietnam War."

Villagers saw the helicopter making unusual swinging-like movements before it crashed into the side of a mountain, a local official said.

No large-scale MIA excavations are underway in Vietnam, but some Americans remain in the country year-round doing advance work for future digs.

Since 1973, the remains of 591 American servicemen formerly listed as unaccounted for have been identified and returned to their families. There are 1,992 Americans still unaccounted for from the war in Southeast Asia, including 1,498 in Vietnam.

The United States spends $5 million to $6 million annually on recovery operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

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