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Thu, Apr 21, 2005

Commercial Helicopter Down In Iraq

Eleven Lost In Mishap

REAL TIME UPDATE 1331 EDT -- The death toll has risen to eleven in the apparent shoot-down of a civilian-owned Mi8 helicopter north of Baghdad. The Bulgarian aircraft's owner was listed among the dead.

It was thought to be the first time a civilian aircraft had been shot down in Iraq since the 2003 invasion led by US forces, according to  military sources.

Bulgarian and US military officials said the Mi8 was brought down by a rocket-propelled grenade Thursday. An Iraqi militant group claimed responsibility for the attack.

"The Islamic Army in Iraq claims responsibility for bringing down a ... cargo aircraft and killing all those on board," according to a statement posted on a web site often used by Iraqi insurgents. It was quoted by Reuters.

Initial reports said the aircraft was chartered by a Washington-based aviation company. It was owned by Bulgarian-based Heli Air and chartered through SkyLink, operating from Canada. The three crew members on board were Bulgarians, according to both Heli Air and Skylink. At least six Americans were on board as well.

The six were employees of a North Carolina company called Blackwater, which provides security services for the US State Department in Iraq. The identities of the remaining victims remained in question Thursday afternoon.

REAL-TIME UPDATE 0936 EDT-- Bulgaria's defense minister says the civilian helicopter that went down near Baghdad Thursday was shot down by a missile. In a statement from the ministry in Sofia, the ministry said three of the nine people on board were Bulgarians. The nationalities of the other six people aboard the Mi8 were not immediately known, but they were all said to be civilian contractors.

A commercial helicopter went down some 12 miles north of Baghdad Thursday, killing all nine people on board, according to the US Embassy. There was no immediate word on the nationality of the victims.

US military officials said the helicopter, a Russian-made Mi8 (file photo, below), was operating under a contract with coalition authorities. Embassy officials said they couldn't immediately confirm that claim.

The aircraft was operated by Skylink Air and Logistic Support of the USA. So far, there's been no comment from the company.

FMI: www.centcom.mil

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