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KUWAIT CITY — Seven U.S. soldiers were killed early Thursday morning when their transport helicopter crashed in southern Iraq, officials said.

Enemy fire was not involved in the incident, the military said.

The CH-47 Chinook helicopter went down just after midnight around 60 miles west of Basra. All aboard were killed. In its initial news release, the military said five bodies had been recovered and that two soldiers were missing; hours later, that was updated to say the bodies of all seven aboard had been recovered.

"It is a tough day for the coalition and we are deeply saddened by the loss of our soldiers," said Col. Bill Buckner, Multi-National Corps—Iraq spokesman. "Our prayers and condolences go out to the families during this difficult and tragic incident." The Chinook was one of four making a flight from a base in Kuwait to a U.S. military base in Balad, roughly 400 miles to the north, officials said.

The other three helicopters in the flight did not have incident or injury, Maj. John Hall, another military spokesman, told The Associated Press.

U.S. military officials in Kuwait could not say on Thursday how frequently helicopters are used for troop and equipment transport between Kuwait and points north of Baghdad.

A British Quick Reaction Force team was dispatched from Basra to assist at the site. A road convoy in the vicinity was also diverted to the scene, according to the military’s news release.

The AP reported that an aide to U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., said four Texans and three from Oklahoma were among the seven National Guardsmen killed in a helicopter crash in southern Iraq. Fallin’s spokesman Alex Weintz says the four Texans killed weresoldiers from the Texas National Guard.

The military did not release the names of those killed pending notification of next of kin.

An investigation has begun into the cause of the crash.

While weather conditions were mostly clear on Wednesday and Thursday, much of Iraq had been blanketed by sandstorms the previous five days, grounding many military helicopter and fixed-wing flights.

The crash was the deadliest for U.S. troops in Iraq since an August 2007 Black Hawk crash in northern Iraq that killed 14 people.

In January and February of 2007, there were a series of crashes, including several in which the aircraft were shot down by insurgents.

Officials said then that the helicopters had become targets, but changes in tactics and routes were instituted.

Since the beginning of the Iraq war in March 2003, nearly 70 U.S. helicopters have gone down, the military said.

As the roadside bomb threat grew in Iraq, so did the use of helicopters to transport troops and supplies.

Between 2005 and late 2007, for instance, the number of flight hours by U.S. aviation forces doubled, according to statistics provided by the military.

Fatal helo crashes over last 2 years in Iraq

2008Sept. 18: Seven U.S. soldiers are killed when a Chinook helicopter crashes west of Basra, Iraq.March 4: One U.S. servicemember, seven members of the Iraqi Air Force are killed when an Mi-17 Iraqi military helicopter crashes in northern Iraq during a sandstorm.

2007Aug. 22: UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter goes down in northern Iraq, killing all 14 crewmembers and passengers.Officials blame a mechanical malfunction.Aug. 14: CH-47 Chinook Transport helicopter crashes while on a routine post-maintenance test flight, killing five U.S. troops.July 4: One soldier is killed, one injured when the helicopter they are in strikes a power line and goes down in Mosul.May 28: An OH-58D Kiowa helicopter is shot down near Muqdadiyah, killing the two pilots.Feb. 7: Five Marines and two Navy corpsmen are killed when the CH-46 Sea Knight they are in is shot down by insurgents.Feb. 2: An Apache helicopter is shot down by enemy fire in Taji, killing two.Jan. 28: Two soldiers are killed when their Apache helicopter goes down during heavy fighting near Najaf, south of Baghdad.Jan. 20: A Black Hawk helicopter crashes in Diyala province, possibly downed by enemy fire. Twelve soldiers are killed.

Sources: Staff and wire reports;

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