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American Helicopters Crash Victims Believed Dead in Philippines - 2002-02-24

A U.S. Air Force general says all 10 of the men aboard a helicopter that crashed in sea in the Philippines are thought to be dead. Searchers are trying to recover the men's bodies.

The commander of the U.S. forces training in the southern Philippines says there is no hope that any of the men survived Friday's crash. At a news conference in Zamboanga in the southern Philippines Sunday, Brigadier General Donald Wurster said the emphasis now is on recovering the bodies of the 10 men.

Philippine Major Noel Detoyato said Philippine and United States troops are hunting for the wreckage. The helicopter went down in the ocean and is thought to lie about 125 meters below the surface. "We have already deployed some of our Navy Seals. The Filipino Navy Seals are in the area, they are helping with the search," he said.

The U.S. Army helicopter was being used to ferry troops and equipment for the anti-terrorism exercise the American forces are holding with Philippine troops in the southern Philippines.

The MH-47E Chinook helicopter crashed early Friday in the ocean as it was flying from Zamboanga to Cebu. U.S. aircraft used in the exercised are based at a Philippine military airfield on Cebu.

Major Detoyato said the accident will not alter the plans for the exercise. "The exercise will go on as scheduled," he said. "The participants expressed their sorrow and grief over that, but the exercise must go on."

Major Detoyato said that investigators from the Philippines and the United States have not determined the cause of the crash, but they have ruled out hostile action.

The exercise, which involves about 660 American troops, is taking place in the home ground of the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla group and other Muslim separatists in the southern Philippines. The Philippine military has tried unsuccessfully for a decade to eliminate the Abu Sayyaf, which has been linked to the al-Qaida terrorist network led by Osama bin Laden.

While the recovery efforts for the wreckage continue, more than 1,000 residents of Zamboanga held a rally to support the joint exercise. Participants, who included many Muslim residents, said prayers in honor of the Americans who died.