FALLUJAH, Iraq – A U.S. Black Hawk medivac helicopter crashed Thursday near this stronghold of the anti-American insurgency, killing all nine soldiers aboard, the U.S. military said. A witness said the helicopter, which bore red crosses, was hit in the tail by a rocket. A big U.S. Air Force C-5 cargo jet carrying 63 passengers and crew has been hit by ground fire in Iraq and made a safe emergency landing following an explosion in one of its four engines, the military says.
There were no survivors among the nine American soldiers aboard the helicopter that crashed about four miles south of Fallujah, the 82nd Airborne Division said.
Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt initially said the aircraft crashed while making an “emergency landing” about 2:20 p.m., adding that the cause was unknown.
Mohammed Ahmed al-Jamali, a farmer who lives close to the crash site, said he heard the whoosh of a rocket, saw it hit the helicopter in the tail and watched the chopper crash in flames.
Al-Jamali, 27, said he rushed to the scene but found all aboard dead.
“I was in the farm, I heard the sound, looked up and I saw the rocket hit. It hit it in the tail,” al-Jamali said.
He said there were two helicopters in the air, both with the distinctive red crosses of medical evacuation craft, and that the second one was hit.
The helicopter was a medical evacuation aircraft but it was unclear if it was carrying patients, a military official said on condition of anonymity.
Student Waleed Kurdi, 23, said he heard “a loud explosion and I saw the fire in the air.” He said the aircraft exploded in two before it hit the ground.
American troops arrived about an hour later, while a helicopter patrolled above, al-Jamali said.
Fallujah, west of Baghdad, is a flash point of the resistance against the U.S. occupation where rebels previously have shot down U.S. helicopters.
“A C-5 Galaxy outbound from Baghdad International Airport declared an in-flight emergency at 6:20 a.m. Baghdad time due to an explosion in the number four engine. The aircraft immediately returned to the airport and landed safely,” the U.S. Air Mobility Command said.
“Initial reports indicate the incident is the result of hostile action from the ground, but the type of weapon and other details are unknown,” the mobility command said in a statement from Scott Air Force Base in Illinois.
Another military official in Washington earlier told Reuters that a missile was believed to have struck the aircraft.
None of the 11 crew members and 52 other military personnel aboard the four-engine C-5 Galaxy were injured, the mobility command said, adding that a team of military experts had been dispatched from Europe to investigate the incident.
The plane was assigned to the 22nd Airlift Squadron out of Travis Air Force Base in California, the mobility command said.