A U.S. military official said a mechanical problem appeared to be why a helicopter crashed Thursday, killing seven American soldiers in Iraq's southern desert, the deadliest such incident in Iraq in more than a year.
The CH-47 Chinook was flying with three other choppers from Kuwait when it went down shortly after midnight about 60 miles west of Basra, the military said.
The U.S. military relies heavily on helicopters to ferry troops, dignitaries and supplies to avoid the threat of ambushes and roadside bombs.
In all, 70 U.S. helicopters have gone down since the war started in March 2003, according to military figures. Of those, 36 were confirmed to have been shot down.
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Maj. John Hall, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said hostile fire had been ruled out in Thursday's crash and that the three other helicopters suffered no damage.
A Pentagon official in Washington said it appeared that the twin-engine transport aircraft had malfunctioned.
“They think it was a mechanical problem,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
The Chinook, considered the Army's workhorse, can carry more than 30 people, but the military said the seven killed were the only ones on board the helicopter that crashed.
The aircraft – en route to a base in Balad, north of Baghdad – went down in an area under British military control. A British quick reaction force and road convoy were dispatched to help American officials at the site, officials said.
It was the deadliest helicopter accident for U.S. troops since Aug. 22, 2007, when a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter crashed in northern Iraq, killing all 14 U.S. soldiers aboard.
The military did not release the names or hometowns of those killed pending notification of next of kin. But Alex Weintz, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., said all seven were National Guardsmen – four from Texas and three from Oklahoma.