US helicopter crash in Philippines

At least three US soldiers have died in the crash of a transport helicopter into the sea in the southern Philippines.

There were 10 personnel aboard the MH-47 Chinook, which came down in a gulf north of the island of Mindanao.

The Pentagon has ruled out the possibility that the helicopter was shot down.

US special forces began arriving four days ago in the southern Philippines to train Filipino troops in their fight against the Abu Sayyaf Islamic separatist group.

A Philippine army officer, Major Noel Detoyato, said that three soldiers had been rescued, the French news agency AFP reports.

"This is confirmed. They sent the report to [southern military chief] Lieutenant General Roy Cimatu," the officer said.

He gave no details of where the survivors were discovered but added that the bodies of three other soldiers were also recovered.

However, the US military has not yet confirmed that anyone has survived the crash.

A US Navy plane taking part in the search and rescue mission was itself forced to make an emergency landing when one of its engines failed. There were no injuries.

Explosion report

The helicopter crashed at 0230 local time Friday (1830 GMT, Thursday) while transporting American troops from Basilan to Mactan Air Base in the central Philippines.

The Pentagon said the MH-47 was one of two Chinooks flying to the island at that time.

The second helicopter, which conducted the initial search for survivors, was joined by other US aircraft as the recovery operation continued in poor visibility due to rainy weather.

A Philippines military spokesman said that eyewitnesses saw a loud explosion, after which the helicopter plunged on fire into the sea.

War on Abu Sayyaf

About 80 US troops have arrived in the Philippines to train local forces in anti-terror tactics.

A total of 600 US special forces and support personnel will be deployed over the next six months in the biggest expansion of the US war against terrorism outside of Afghanistan.

Abu Sayyaf guerrillas are holding two Americans and a Filipino hostage on Basilan, the rebels' stronghold.

The group is regarded by the United States as an international terrorist organisation because of links to Osama Bin Laden, blamed for the 11 September attacks on America.

Philippine forces have been trying to eradicate the Abu Sayyaf for the past two years.

22/02/2002

Bron : BBC World News

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