HADITHA, Iraq, (Reuters) – Four U.S. troops were killed in Iraq on Sunday when a Marine Corps helicopter with 16 people aboard suffered mechanical failure and made an emergency landing in a lake, the military said on Monday.
It said the Ch-46 twin-rotor Sea Knight, the Marine version of the Chinook, came down near the shoreline of Lake Qadisiya near Haditha in volatile Anbar province, heartland of the Sunni insurgency in Iraq. It denied reports it had been shot down. “It did not crash. It made an emergency landing near the shore of Lake Qadisiya and the pilots remained in control of the aircraft throughout the landing and were able to pilot the helicopter to the shore,” spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Josslyn Aberle said.
But an Iraqi military intelligence official in Anbar, west of Baghdad, told Reuters the aircraft was hit as it went to the aid of U.S. troops who had been attacked as they crossed the Euphrates River in boats.
The U.S. military said in a separate statement that initial reports suggested the helicopter had suffered mechanical difficulties.
Anbar, the most dangerous region in Iraq for U.S. soldiers battling the Sunni insurgency, is largely a no-go area for journalists, making it difficult to check witness accounts.
Haditha residents and the Iraqi military official said the area around the lake had been sealed off by U.S. forces.
Helicopter crashes in Iraq are not uncommon. The worst crash of a U.S. military helicopter occurred near the Jordanian border in January 2005, when 31 military personnel were killed.
A week ago, a U.S. F-16 jet on a combat mission crashed near Baghdad. The pilot’s body has not been found and the U.S. military has listed him as dead.