BAGHDAD — A mechanical problem appears to be the reason for a helicopter crash Thursday that killed seven American soldiers in Iraq's southern desert, the deadliest such incident in Iraq in more than a year, the military said.
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.
So far this week 11 U.S. service members have died for noncombat-related reasons, including two sergeants shot to death by a U.S. soldier Sunday. Two other U.S. soldiers died in two separate incidents Wednesday, not as a result of combat but under circumstances that have not been disclosed.
The U.S. military relies heavily on helicopters to ferry troops, dignitaries and supplies to avoid the threat of ambushes and roadside bombs, and Thursday's crash highlighted the noncombat dangers facing Americans in Iraq. Seventy 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.
Maj. John Hall, a military spokesman in Baghdad, said that hostile fire had been ruled out in Thursday's crash and that the three other helicopters suffered no damage.
The aircraft — which was en route to a base in Balad, north of Baghdad — went down in an area under British military control. A British convoy was 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 of those killed pending notification of next of kin. But Alex Weintz, spokesman for Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., said all seven were National Guardsmen — four from Texas and three from Oklahoma.