BERLIN, AUG. 29 (WEDNESDAY) -- At least 10 U.S. servicemen were killed early today when a huge Air Force cargo plane that was ferrying equipment to American forces in the Persian Gulf crashed and burned at Ramstein Air Base in West Germany, U.S. military spokesmen said.

Air Force spokesman Doug Moore said the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy was part of the round-the-clock deployment of U.S. troops and supplies to Saudi Arabia and the gulf following Iraq's invasion of Kuwait.

Moore said 10 of the 17 military personnel on board were confirmed dead. Two persons were unaccounted for several hours after the accident, and five others were hospitalized.

Another Air Force spokesman, Capt. Ed Worley, said the plane, which was headed for Frankfurt's Rhein-Main Air Base 80 miles to the northwest, crashed and burned a quarter-mile from the Ramstein runway at 12:30 a.m.

"It crashed in a field right off the west end of the runway," Worley said by telephone from Ramstein, the largest military air base in Western Europe. "We don't expect any civilian casualties."

{A Ramstein spokesman, Chief Master Sgt. David Smith, told the Los Angeles Times that the plane was carrying medical supplies, dry rations, cargo handling equipment and maintenance equipment.

{Authorities have not determined the cause of the crash, and a board of officers has been appointed to investigate, Smith said.}

Worley said the C-5 was part of the 60th Airlift Wing at Travis Air Force Base in California. He said it was flown by a crew from Kelly Air Force Base in Texas.

The C-5 is the largest transport plane in the U.S. Air Force fleet. The authoritative reference work Jane's All the World's Aircraft says the C-5 can carry up to about a quarter-million pounds of cargo.

There had been two earlier casualties in the Middle East military buildup, dubbed Operation Desert Shield. Air Force Staff Sgt. John Campisi, 30, was accidentally struck and killed Aug. 12 by a truck on a darkened aircraft runway in Saudi Arabia, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Daniel M. Jones, 19, died Aug. 22 in an electrical accident aboard the USS Antietam.

On April 4, 1975, a U.S. C-5 crashed in Vietnam, killing 135 people, including 76 Vietnamese orphans being taken from Saigon to Europe and the United States.