Helicopter carrying MIA search team crashes in Vietnam, killing at least 16


Saturday, April 7th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6



HANOI, Vietnam (AP) _ A helicopter carrying a team searching for Americans missing in action from the Vietnam War crashed into a mountain Saturday, killing at least 16 people, including seven Americans.

There were conflicting reports about the number of casualties. Vietnamese officials said there were 20 people on board and that all of them died in the crash. But a Pentagon spokesman in Washington, Lt. Cmdr Terry Sutherland, said 16 were killed, including seven Americans and nine Vietnamese.

The sky was somewhat hazy when the helicopter crashed mid-afternoon near Thanh Tranh village in Quang Binh province's Bo Tranh district, officials said. The area is about 280 miles south of Hanoi.

The U.S. military's Pacific Command said in a statement on its website that the team was in a Russian-made MI-17 helicopter on a mission ``preparing for a recovery operation involving unaccounted for Americans lost during the Vietnam war.''

Villagers saw the helicopter making unusual swinging-like movements in the air before it crashed into the side of a mountain, a local official said. Officials were investigating the cause of the crash.

Authorities found 19 badly burned bodies, police said. A man who was alive when they reached the site told them the plane was carrying an MIA search team, officials said. He later died. The Pacific Command said ``appropriate actions'' were being taken to recover the victims' remains.

President Bush extended ``his condolences and prayers'' to the families of those killed, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said in Washington.

There are currently no large-scale MIA excavations under way in Vietnam, but some Americans remain in the country year-round doing advance work for future digs.

Since 1973, the remains of 591 American servicemen formerly listed as unaccounted for have been identified and returned to their families. There are 1,992 Americans still unaccounted for from the war in Southeast Asia, including 1,498 in Vietnam.

The United States spends $5 million to $6 million annually on MIA recovery operations in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.