3 Soldiers Killed In Afghan Crash
Officials Say No Hostile Fire Involved
By Vernon Loeb
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, June 13, 2002; Page A28
An Air Force transport plane carrying 10 servicemen crashed on takeoff in eastern Afghanistan yesterday, killing three of those aboard, defense officials said. Officials said there was no indication that hostile fire played a part in the crash.
The U.S. Central Command said the survivors suffered injuries ranging from a broken leg to cuts and bruises and were flown to a medical facility in Kandahar, more than 200 miles away. The remains of the three killed have been recovered and are being returned to the United States, defense officials said. No identifications were available.
The crash occurred near the Bande Sardeh dam, about 35 miles southwest of Gardez. The plane, a Special Operations MC-130H Combat Talon assigned to the 16th Special Operations Wing at Hurlburt Field, Fla., took off at 9:30 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT) carrying seven Air Force crew members and three Special Operations soldiers. The names of those on board were withheld pending notification of family members.
Defense officials provided no information on the plane's mission and said they could not comment on conditions at the airstrip from which the MC-130 departed.
Special Operations forces have been searching for pockets of al Qaeda and Taliban resistance in Afghanistan, and much of their attention has focused on the mountainous region near Gardez along the border with Pakistan.
Prior to the accident, 36 U.S. troops had been killed in Afghanistan and surrounding countries since the war on terrorism began. The total includes 10 killed by hostile fire and at least 11 who have died in aircraft accidents. A CIA officer was killed in November during a prison uprising.
The deadliest aircraft crash of the war took place in early January, when a KC-130 refueling plane carrying seven Marines crashed into a mountain in southwestern Pakistan, killing all aboard.
The following month, an MC-130P Combat Shadow aircraft used for refueling Special Operations helicopters -- also from the 16th Special Operations Wing -- crashed in Afghanistan. But none of its eight-member crew was seriously injured.
The first deadly aircraft accident of the war occurred on Oct. 19, 12 days after the U.S. assault on Afghanistan began, when two Army Rangers were killed in the crash of a Black Hawk helicopter in Pakistan.
In January, another helicopter crash involving a CH-53E Super Stallion, a heavy transport aircraft, killed two Marines and injured five others. The helicopter crash-landed in the mountains about 40 miles from Bagram air base.
MC-130 Combat Talons have been responsible for inserting most of the Special Forces troops deployed in Afghanistan onto unimproved airstrips, including dirt runways. The plane is designed to move troops into difficult areas, flying low-level, blacked-out night missions with crew members using night vision goggles.
The newest Combat Talon, the MC-130H, which began flying in 1991, is equipped with a sophisticated radar that enables pilots to fly as low as 360 feet. The aircraft is also equipped with automated cockpit controls.
While most Air Force Special Operations personnel are pilots, two non-pilots -- a combat controller and a pararescueman -- were among seven soldiers killed March 4 during a U.S.-led offensive against al Qaeda south of Gardez. Those combat deaths represented the largest loss of life in a single day since the crash of the Marine refueling plane in January and the most American combat deaths in a single day since 1993, when 18 Rangers and Special Operations soldiers died in battle in Mogadishu, Somalia.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company