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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 7:06 a.m., Thursday, August 23, 2007

Army's worst day

Advertiser Staff and News Services

Ten Hawai'i soldiers were among those killed when an Army Black Hawk helicopter crashed today in northern Iraq, a statement from Schofield Barracks said last night.

The four crew members were from Fort Lewis, Wash., and the 10 passengers were based out of Schofield Barracks, according to the Army. All aboard the helicopter died.

The soldiers were assigned to Task Force Lightning, which includes units from Schofield and other bases across the nation.

The military says initial indications showed the UH-60 helicopter had a mechanical problem and was not brought down by hostile fire, but the cause of the crash was under investigation.

The military isn't releasing the identities of the dead until they notify relatives.

The UH-60 helicopter went down before dawn in the Tamim province that surrounds Kirkuk, an oil-rich city 180 miles north of Baghdad, said Lt. Col. Michael Donnelly, a military spokesman in northern Iraq.

He declined to be more specific about the location of the crash, but said the facts gathered indicated it was almost certainly due to a mechanical problem and not hostile fire. The final cause remained under investigation, however.

The Black Hawk was one of two helicopters and had just picked up troops after a mission when it crashed, Donnelly said.

The crash was the deadliest since a crash in January 2005. That crash occurred on Jan. 26 and also involved Hawai'i troops. A CH-53 Sea Stallion transport helicopter went down in a sandstorm in western Iraq, killing 31. Twenty-seven were assigned to the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment, at Kane'ohe Bay.

Yesterday's crash was one of two helicopters on a nighttime operation.

Maj. Gen. Benjamin "Randy" Mixon, the commander of the 25th Infantry Division in Hawai'i, heads Multinational Division-North and is in charge of U.S. forces in northern Iraq.

The task force in Iraq has five to six combat brigades and includes more than 7,000 Schofield Barracks soldiers. Included in that force is the 25th Combat Aviation Brigade from Hawai'i and 90 to 100 helicopters.

Schofield soldiers, including the aviation brigade, are expected to begin rotating out of Iraq next month after 15 months of duty. The task force also has units and helicopters from outside Hawai'i.

Donnelly, the military spokesman in northern Iraq, said, "This is a grave loss for Task Force Lightning and we are doing our best to be there for the families, pray for them and keep them close. We lost 14 great Americans and warriors; it is a difficult time for us all.

"We will get through this and stay focused on our mission here to bring peace and security for the Iraqi people," Donnelly said.

The U.S. military relies heavily on helicopters to avoid the threat of ambushes and roadside bombs — the deadliest weapon in the militants' arsenal — and dozens have crashed in accidents or been shot down.


Advertiser staff writer William Cole and the Associated Press contributed to this report.