2 Marines die, 5 hurt in air crash

Marylander is killed as copter goes down amid Afghan peaks

Mechanical failure blamed

Marine aircraft is second to crash in less than 2 weeks

January 21, 2002|By Tom Bowman | Tom Bowman,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

KANDAHAR AIR BASE - Two Marines were killed - one of them from Maryland - and five injured yesterday when their helicopter crashed in the mountains of northern Afghanistan during a supply mission, U.S. military officials said.

The CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter went down about 8 a.m. 40 miles south of Bagram air base, shortly after lifting off on a supply mission, military officials said. Bagram is just north of the Afghan capital, Kabul.

Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld, appearing yesterday on the NBC News program Meet the Press, said the cause of the crash appeared to be mechanical failure.

The Pentagon identified the dead Marines as Staff Sgt. Walter F. Cohee III, 26, a communications navigations systems technician from Mardela Springs in Wicomico County, and Sgt. Dwight J. Morgan, 24, a helicopter mechanic from Mendocino, Calif.

"Your heart just breaks every time something like this happens," Rumsfeld said.

The injured crew members were identified as Capt. William J. Cody, 30, a pilot from Middlesex, N.J.; Capt. Douglas V. Glasgow, 33, a pilot from Wayne, Ohio; Cpl. David. J. Lynne, 23, a crew chief from Mecklenburg, N.C.; Cpl. Ivan A. Montanez, 22, a helicopter mechanic from Hayes, Texas; and Cpl. Stephen A. Sullivan, 24, a crew chief from Pickens, S.C.

They were flown to Bagram air base, then to an undisclosed site in Afghanistan for treatment, said Capt. Tom Bryant, an Army spokesman. Their injuries were not considered life-threatening, the Pentagon said.

The men and the helicopter were assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 361, based at the Marine Corps Air Station in Miramar, Calif.

The crash comes on the heels of another involving a Marine aircraft less than two weeks ago. A KC-130 tanker crashed Jan. 9 while approaching an airfield in southwestern Pakistan, killing all seven Marines aboard.

That crash is still under investigation, said Maj. Chris Hughes, a Marine spokesman.

Military officials have said that there is no indication that hostile fire caused either crash.

At least two other helicopters have crashed since the United States began the bombing campaign Oct. 7. Two Marines were killed in a previous accident in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, Marines continue to pull out of Kandahar to their ships in the northern Arabian Sea while their replacements in the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell, Ky., stream into this bombed-out airport built in the 1980s by Soviet forces.

Hundreds of Army soldiers have arrived, with several thousand scheduled to replace the estimated 2,000 Marines. The 101st Airborne officially took over from the Marines on Jan. 12.

The airport is a bustle of activity, with soldiers putting up tents while forklifts whisk past with supplies. Every so often, a lumbering C-17 cargo plane kicks up a fine, dun-colored dust that covers everything. Soldiers are told to keep their rifles clean.

Col. Frank Wiercinski, who leads the 3rd Brigade Combat Team of the 101st, said his unit's job is to continue to secure the air base and conduct any operations deemed necessary by Gen. Tommy R. Franks, commander of the U.S.-led anti-terror campaign.

The Army is bringing in more helicopters than the Marines had at their disposal, among them Black Hawks and Apaches that could be used on combat missions.

Asked about the greatest threat, Wiercinski said: "In a combat area, everything is dangerous."

Soldiers have been told that the threats include lingering pockets of Taliban, with about 2,000 fighters near Kandahar.

"Kandahar itself is the home of the Taliban," Wiercinski reminded reporters.

The air base defenses are probed nightly, he said, but the Afghans fall back from the fences when approached by U.S. forces.

Wiercinski said there have been no reports of snipers since Jan. 10, when about 10 hidden attackers fired at Marines. A mud-brick structure built over a cave was found not far from the base perimeter.

Lt. James Jarvis, a Marine spokesman, said mortars and rocket-propelled grenades were found inside the building, which was detonated two days later.

Army Capt. Sara Pollak, among the first to arrive from Fort Campbell with the 101st Airborne, told soldiers who flew in today that mortars are the most serious threat they are likely to face. In case of a mortar attack, she said, put on your flak jacket and head for the white mosque that towers over the airport terminal. The mosque is one of the few hard structures at an airport whose terminal has lost most of its windows to the American bombing campaign.

But Pollak warned the soldiers to stay away from the mosque except in an emergency. "It's an insult to a Muslim for a non-Muslim to go near this site," she said.

Soldiers were told that land mines around the airport are a major hazard. Afghanistan is one of the most heavily mined countries in the world, with up to 10 million nationwide. Military officials say there are many mines in the Kandahar area, and that some are being kept in place as a security measure.

Pollak told the new arrivals that about 100 Afghans are working at the air base as laborers, setting up tents and burning waste, since there is no sewer system. They were chosen by Haji Gulai, the Afghan commander of the airfield area, and are accompanied in their rounds by an interpreter and two American soldiers.

"They're very pro-American. They love talking to the U.S. forces. They like to talk about where you're from," said Pollak, who nonetheless urged soldiers to be wary of Afghans. If you see them peering at the defenses, jotting something down, immediately notify officials, she advised.

"Respect them," she said of the Afghans, "but you don't necessarily have to trust them."

Wire reports contributed to this article.

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