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RAF MILDENHALL, England — Search teams recovered the bodies Friday of nine Americans killed when a U.S. military aircraft crashed in mountainous southern Albania during a joint exercise, Albanian military authorities said.

The nine Air Force members were in a MC-130H Combat Talon II when it crashed on a mountain ridge about 35 miles southeast of Tirana, Albania.

The airmen from the 7th Special Operations Squadron, part of the 352nd Special Operations Group at RAF Mildenhall, were on a two-week training mission when the plane crashed about 11 p.m. local time Thursday.

Col. Dennis Jones, commander of the 352nd Special Operations Group, said low clouds and winds prevented helicopters from getting to the site in the immediate aftermath, but some Albanian troops did reach it.

“Albanian special forces traveled by foot to the crash site,” he said.

Four bodies were found earlier Friday, and five more were found inside the plane, Albanian officials said.

Air Force officials are assembling a team to investigate, he said.

Maj. Sarah Strachan, a spokeswoman for U.S. European Command, said two UH-60 helicopters were sent from the multinational brigade in Kosovo to assist with the search-and-rescue effort Friday.

Jones would not speculate if weather was a factor. “We’re still investigating what the weather conditions were,” he said.

The commander described the airmen as being younger than 35, but said, “Everyone to me is young in my command.”

Family members of the missing have been notified, and the base is offering various services, including counseling, Jones said.

In all, about 115 airmen from the 352nd are in Albania for the training, which was to foster military cooperation as well as provide training in limited-visibility weather and pilot qualification. The airmen left Mildenhall on Monday.

Strachan said the training in Albania is called Joint Combined Exchange Training, or JCET. This type of training is common and is beneficial for more reasons than just military.

“You have the cultural and language exchanges,” she said, that can lead to better relations between the participants.

Jones said he had a long day since being informed of the crash. Looking tired and speaking quietly, he called this “a critical time” for the group.

“Our hearts and prayers go out to the family members and loved ones,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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