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BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan — Sixteen people were confirmed dead Wednesday after an American CH-47 Chinook helicopter crashed in “severe weather” southwest of Kabul.

“The initial report was that there were no survivors,” said Navy Lt. Cindy Moore, a coalition spokeswoman.

According to a press release issued late Wednesday by the Coalition Press Information Center in Kabul, 18 people were manifested on the flight, but two remain unaccounted for. Earlier in the day, military officials said nine people were killed in the incident. Reports by The Associated Press said 4 American crewmembers were among the dead.

Recovery operations were suspended Wednesday night because of darkness and deteriorating weather, officials said.

The crash is the worst involving American forces since invading the country in late 2001.

The helicopter was one of two returning to Bagram while on a routine mission, Moore said. Chinooks serve as the heavy lifters in Afghanistan, ferrying cargo and passengers to remote locations not easily reached by vehicle. There are dozens of the twin-rotor craft in the air around the country almost every day.

Moore said the identities of the passengers could not be released Wednesday, nor could their nationalities, ranks or units.

Such details would be unavailable until military officials notified next of kin, she said.

“This tragedy is a great loss to CJTF-76 and our hearts and prayers go out to the affected family members, relatives and loved ones,” Maj. Gen. Jason Kamiya, commander of the coalition task force in Afghanistan, said in a statement released Wednesday night.

“The investigation will produce the facts surrounding this incident and the command will take all steps necessary to preclude tragedies such as this from occurring again. For now, we will remember the courage of each individual lost and honor their sacrifice by continuing our commitment to bring peace, security and prosperity to the Afghan people.”

The majority of helicopters in Afghanistan currently are based in Germany, and are assigned to the 11th Aviation Regiment or 12th Aviation Brigade. But there are still some air elements from the Hawaii-based 25th Infantry Division in the country as well as a small National Guard unit from Oregon and Nevada that flies Chinooks.

Chinooks often fly daily missions to remote bases, delivering passengers and cargo while making several stops. Pilots say that the country’s higher elevations present challenges for helicopters.

Moore said there were no indications that hostile action brought the aircraft down. It crashed about 2:45 p.m. near Ghazni, which is a little less than 100 miles southwest of Bagram. The other Chinook safely returned to base.

There is an American provincial reconstruction team in Ghazni and soldiers there were the first to respond. They quickly secured the scene, but were still searching through the wreckage as the sun went down.

Five soldiers had died in Afghanistan since the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) took command of Combined/Joint Task Force-76 on March 15. One soldier died March 15 when his vehicle struck a land mine. Four more died last week when their vehicle hit a land mine.

Air crashes in Afghanistan

Air crashes have been a leading cause of casualties in Afghanistan, known for the extreme wear its harsh environment puts on aircraft and flight crews. Among the incidents in the past three years:

Nov. 27, 2004:Three soldiers and three civilians are killed when a U.S. military-contracted transport plane crashed in the Hindu Kush Mountains.

Aug. 12, 2004:An Army UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter shuttling U.S. Marines crashed in eastern Afghanistan, killing one crewmember and injuring 14 troops.

Oct. 21, 2004:One airman died with his HH-60 helicopter crashed during a medical evacuation mission.

Nov. 23, 2003:An Air Force MH-53 Pave Low crashed near Bagram, killing one soldier and three airmen.

Jan 30, 2003:Four soldiers were killed when an Army 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment MH-60 helicopter crashed.

Dec. 21 2002:Seven German peacekeepers were killed when a CH-53 Super Stallion crashed near Kabul.

June 12, 2002:Two airmen and a soldier were killed when a special operations -130H Combat Talon II crashed in southeast Afghanistan.

Jan. 28, 2002:A CH-47 Chinook flipped onto its side when debris kicked up the aircraft’s rotors and limited its visibility. Sixteen 101st Airborne Division soldiers were injured.

Jan. 20, 2002:A Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter crashed in dusty conditions while on a resupply mission over mountains south of Kabul. Three Marines were killed and five others injured.

Jan. 9, 2002:Marine Corps KC-130 aerial refueler crashed into a mountain just the other side of the border with Pakistan killing all seven aboard.

Dec. 6, 2001:Marine Corps UH-1 Huey crashed in a brownout in southern Afghanistan, with two Marines injured.

Nov. 2, 2001:An Army helicopter crashed due to bad weather. Four crew hurt. Aircraft destroyed by Navy jets.

Source: Stars and Stripes archives

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Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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