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Black Hawk crash kills U.S. soldier, injures 12 in Iraq

Monday, September 21, 2009

BAGHDAD -- A Black Hawk helicopter crashed at a major American air base in Iraq, killing one U.S. service member and injuring 12 others, the military said Sunday.

The UH-60 Black Hawk went down Saturday night at the Balad Air Base, about 50 miles north of Baghdad, the military said in a statement.

The military said the cause of the crash was under investigation and gave no other details.

The helicopter went down on a night of high winds that tore through the area, whipping up a fierce sandstorm that was followed by thunder, lightning and rain.

The name and other details about the service member killed were being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

The Black Hawk is the military's mainstay tactical transport helicopter, replacing the UH-1 Huey. It is designed to carry up to four crew members and a fully equipped infantry squad of 11, but it was not clear how many people were aboard the aircraft that crashed Saturday.

With Saturday's death, at least 4,345 members of the U.S. military have died in the Iraq war since it began in March 2003, according to an Associated Press count.

It was not clear what mission the Black Hawk was on when it went down, but the U.S. military relies heavily on helicopters to ferry troops, dignitaries and supplies to avoid the threat of ambushes and roadside bombs.

The Balad Air Base was originally a Saddam-era airfield. It was seized by American forces in the early days of the 2003 invasion and has since grown to be one of the largest in Iraq.

It is now home to more than 20,000 U.S. forces and provides air power, logistics and counterterrorism support, as well as training for Iraqi security forces. Its location offers a good vantage point for intelligence gathering across the entire north and specific areas such as the Iranian border.

In addition to serving as a base for Army helicopters and unmanned reconnaissance drones, the U.S. Air Force also uses the base for its F-16 fighters.

In 2007, an Ohio Air National Guard pilot was killed there when his F-16 crashed shortly after takeoff. After an investigation, authorities said the pilot had apparently "lost spatial awareness" during a night mission made more difficult by dusty conditions.

Elsewhere in Iraq on Sunday, a roadside bomb exploded on a main road in Iskandariyah, 30 miles (50 kilometers) south of Baghdad, killing the driver of a car and injuring four passengers, a local policeman said. And in Baghdad, unidentified gunmen shot and killed a policeman outside his home, another police officer said.

Both policemen spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the press.


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