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RESPONSE TO TERROR

Bodies of Marines Killed in Crash Are Brought Home

Military: Search continues for last of seven victims of plane accident in Pakistan. Meanwhile, 30 more prisoners head for Cuba.

January 14, 2002|RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — The remains of five Marines killed last week in a plane crash in Pakistan were returned home Sunday night, while the search for one of two other crew members continued, a military spokesman said.

The aircraft bearing the bodies arrived shortly before midnight Sunday at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware.

U.S. Central Command officials in Tampa, Fla., had said they were expecting the remains of six of the Marines to be on the flight, but authorities at Dover said there were only five coffins.

Meanwhile, U.S. aircraft continued to bomb Al Qaeda training bases in the area of Zhawar Kili al Badr, near Khowst, in eastern Afghanistan. The repeated airstrikes, which have gone on for several days, are intended to prevent Al Qaeda and Taliban forces from using a large network of caves and tunnels as a staging area to escape into Pakistan.

Also Sunday, an additional 30 Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners were put on a transport plane for the U.S. Navy base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where prison facilities are being built to eventually house up to 2,000 inmates.

Wednesday's plane crash caused the single largest loss of life for U.S. forces involved in the Afghan campaign. The seven crew members belonged to a squadron based at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego.

Their KC-130, a four-engine turboprop used as a cargo transport and aerial refueling tanker, crashed while on a nighttime landing approach to a military base in Shamsi, Pakistan, near the Afghan border.

Air Force Lt. Col. Martin Compton, a spokesman for the U.S. Central Command, which directs military operations in Afghanistan, said investigators had not yet established the cause of the crash, although enemy fire had been ruled out.

"It's very steep and mountainous terrain, and they were coming in for a landing," he said.

The bodies of the Marines were flown to U.S. Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany, Compton said. From there they were taken to a military medical facility in Landstuhl, Germany, for preparation. Bad weather in Europe on Sunday temporarily delayed return of the remains, which were flown to the United States later in the day.

The crew members were identified as Capt. Matthew W. Bancroft, 29, of Redding, Calif., the pilot; Capt. Daniel G. McCollum, 29, of Irmo, S. C., the co-pilot; Gunnery Sgt. Stephen L. Bryson, 36, of Montgomery, Ala.; Staff Sgt. Scott N. Germosen, 37, of New York; Sgt. Nathan P. Hays, 21, of Wilbur, Wash.; Lance Cpl. Bryan P. Bertrand, 23, of Coos Bay, Ore.; and Sgt. Jeanette L. Winters, 25, of Gary, Ind., the radio operator. The Pentagon has not released the identities of the six Marines whose remains have been recovered.

Another crew and plane from Squadron 352 at Miramar will take the place of the lost craft.

The airport in Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, where the KC-130s are based, was the scene late Sunday of the second transfer of prisoners to Cuba. The 30 prisoners were shackled and their faces covered as they boarded a C-17 cargo jet for the flight to Guantanamo, in the island's easternmost province.

The U.S. base at the Kandahar airport was on high alert. Most lights were shut off, and canine details and Humvees with 50-caliber machine guns patrolled the area. The base is the main detention center in Afghanistan for Taliban and Al Qaeda prisoners and as such could be a target for a raid to free the captives.

A group of 20 prisoners made the flight to Cuba last week. More than 460 Al Qaeda and Taliban prisoners are in U.S. custody--at Guantanamo Bay, the Kandahar base and Bagram air base in Afghanistan, and on the amphibious assault ship Bataan in the Arabian Sea.

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Associated Press contributed to this report.

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