16 U.S. troops hurt in helicopter accident

Wednesday, January 30, 2002

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A helicopter on a combat mission crashed while landing at night in eastern Afghanistan after the pilot failed to see holes on the ground, Army officials said Tuesday. Sixteen U.S. soldiers on board were injured.

The soldiers suffered bruises and fractures in the accident -- the latest in a series of aviation mishaps that have claimed 11 American lives. Only two Americans have died in combat.

Ten of the injured were evacuated to the U.S. military base at Incirlik, Turkey, Col. Frank Wiercinski said Tuesday. He said the accident was not caused by hostile fire but "there were hostile forces in the area."

Meanwhile, a Red Cross official said the U.S. military had failed to warn him about a raid on a hospital where six al-Qaida gunmen were holed up. Afghan fighters backed by U.S. special forces stormed Kandahar's Mir Wais hospital Monday, killing the gunmen and ending the two-month siege.

Gianni Bacchetta, an administrator for the International Committee of the Red Cross in the southern city of Kandahar, said he had asked the special forces to give the Red Cross some warning if they were going to attack Mir Wais Hospital. The Red Cross received no such warning, Bacchetta said.

Bacchetta doubted, however, that the Red Cross would file a protest because the gunmen were combatants.

"They were in the hospital, wounded, but they were armed, and subject to using the arms," Bacchetta said.

Darkness and dust

The helicopter accident occurred when 24 members of the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division were landing at a Marine Corps encampment Monday near the town of Khost, an area hit repeatedly by U.S. air strikes and ground-force operations against suspected training camps used by Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network.

None of the injuries was considered life-threatening, Army Capt. A.C. Roper said at a news briefing at the U.S. military base in Kandahar.

The pilot of the CH-47 Chinook apparently failed to see holes in the ground at the landing site due to darkness and dust, Roper said.

Aviation accidents have proven the most lethal aspect of the Afghan campaign.

Seven Marines died when a KC-130 refueling tanker crashed and exploded in Pakistan on Jan. 9, and two Marines died in a helicopter crash Jan. 20 in a resupply mission to special forces north of Kabul. Two Army Rangers died in an earlier chopper accident.

On Tuesday, five Marines injured in the Jan. 20 helicopter crash were transferred from a U.S. military hospital in Germany to the United States for further treatment, said Naval Cmdr. Rex Totty, a spokesman for the U.S. European Command in Stuttgart.

The marines are being taken to Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland after a week of treatment at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, said Totty.

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