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Army says Black Hawk crash that killed 12 an accident

MONTGOMERY (AP) — A U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopter that crashed last year in northern Iraq, killing all 12 aboard, does not appear to have been downed by enemy fire, according to a newly released Army report.

The report consistently refers to the Jan. 7, 2006 crash, which killed eight U.S. troops and four American civilians, as an accident, which left such "catastrophic damage" that the precise cause remains uncertain.

The report from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker, Ala., said the 12 aboard died instantly or shortly after impact. The trail of debris spread the length of two football fields.

"The Board could not positively determine the cause of the accident due to the catastrophic damage to the aircraft and the absence of a flight data recorder or cockpit voice recorder," according to the report.

At one point it says: "During analysis, the Board could not find any indication that the aircraft was shot down."

An official not immediately return a call for comment.

on why essential parts of the report were blacked out.

The Black Hawk was part of a two-helicopter team providing support for the 101st Airborne Division and was flying between bases when communication was lost. It crashed just before midnight about seven miles east of Tal Afar, a northern city near the Syrian border that was the scene of heavy fighting with insurgents.

According to the report, people on board the Black Hawk were using night vision goggles and the helicopter was flying through light rain. Scattered storms are mentioned, but the crew of the other helicopter on the mission said in the report that "there was no discussion of concern about weather conditions from either aircraft in the minutes preceding the accident."

The crew of the other helicopter reported seeing "a bright white flash" and then, a few seconds later, "something on the ground, like a red Roman candle with sparks."

Jeff Krausse of Ephrata, Wash., whose daughter, 1st Lt. Jaimie L. Campbell, 22, was one of the helicopter's pilots, said the Army told him the cause of the crash could not be determined through investigation and that, in such a case, it is automatically ruled "pilot error."

Krausse said he doesn't believe the crash was caused by pilot error.

"I have a really big suspicion that it was weather-related, and I question whether they should even have been flying in those conditions," he told the AP in a phone interview Friday.

He said he has spoken to other pilots about the crash and they told him it sounds like the helicopter encountered "severe wind shears."

According to the report, the helicopter went down just seven miles from its destination, but it was not recovered until the following morning. The report says: "There was a delay in locating the accident site of approximately 12 hours because of severe weather and darkness."

The report also says that a lightning watch was in effect at the time of the crash. But it says that, at the time when the lead helicopter landed, "the weather at Tal Afar was ceiling 3,000 feet and visibility four miles."

Appearing to rule out engine failure, the report says the helicopter hit the ground at a speed of about 150 knots and "both engines were operating prior to the crash sequence." It says that both engines were ripped from the aircraft during the crash and were found about 190 feet from the point of impact.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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