AL-ASAD AIR BASE, Iraq — The Army is trying to determine what caused a scout helicopter to crash into the Euphrates River on Wednesday, killing both pilots weeks before they planned to return home.
Pilots in a second helicopter flying nearby said the OH-58 Kiowa Warrior did not have a mechanical problem or encounter hostile fire before plunging into the river at 1:50 p.m. However, witnesses quoted in some media outlets reported seeing a missile hit the aircraft.
The two reconnaissance helicopters from the Fort Carson, Colo., 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment were flying on a security mission near the city of Haditha, said Maj. Paul Calvert, the regiment's operations officer. The city is just north of Al-Asad Air Base and 120 miles west of Baghdad.
Most of the regiment plans to return to the United States in the next several weeks after spending nearly 12 months in Iraq.
"You always take it hard when you lose one of your boys," Calvert said hours after the crash. "It doesn't matter if it happened on the first day or our last."
A safety inspection team will arrive on Saturday to begin a formal accident investigation. The regiment plans to hold a memorial service on Friday.
Shortly after the helicopter went down, a pilot in the second aircraft jumped into the river hoping to rescue the aviators. After diving down to them, he discovered both had already died, according to the regiment's public affairs office.
A rescue team recovered the bodies, which were flown to Baghdad International Airport on Thursday. Regiment soldiers and special operations forces helped fish out the downed helicopter, which remains at the base waiting for investigators.
The 3rd Marine Air Wing is in the process of replacing the regiment, which arrived in western Iraq in April. Since then, the 3rd ACR has lost 48 soldiers and 300 have been wounded, Calvert said.
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