4 U.S. Soldiers Die as Helicopters Crash in Iraq; Probe Underway Near Kirkuk

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

BAGHDAD, Jan. 26 -- Two U.S. helicopters flying in the dark crashed early Monday in northern Iraq, killing four American soldiers, the military said.

The incident marked the deadliest single incident for U.S. troops in more than four months, but the military said the helicopters did not appear to have been shot down.

The crash happened about 2:15 a.m., it said. The military did not disclose the site, but police and residents said the helicopters went down about 10 miles southwest of the contested city of Kirkuk, along the road to Tikrit, which is 80 miles north of Baghdad.

Residents said the military sealed off the rural area for about four hours, deploying troops and helicopters around the site, where the wreckage burned well into the morning. The helicopters came down about 20 yards apart, they said.

"I heard a strange sound in the sky, then heard two huge explosions," said Mohammed Abdullah, a 28-year-old shepherd who lives less than a mile from the site.

Previously, the deadliest single incident for the U.S. military was Sept. 18, when seven American soldiers were killed in the crash of a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, about 60 miles west of Basra, Iraq's southernmost city. The worst crash since the war began was in January 2005, when a U.S. Marine CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter went down in western Iraq's Anbar province, killing 30 Marines and a sailor.

Before Monday's crash, 11 U.S. soldiers had died in Iraq this month, four of them in combat, one of the lowest totals since the war began. Last July, 13 soldiers were killed.

A special correspondent in Kirkuk contributed to this report.

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