Four British troops lost as helicopter lands in sea

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The Independent Online




Four British soldiers from the multi-national Rapid Reaction Force were killed yesterday when their helicopter crashed into the Adriatic off the coast of Croatia. The disaster ended a grim weekend for the international community in Bosnia, where three American officials and a French peace- keeper were killed in a traffic accident on the treacherous Igman road into Sarajevo.

One man survived the crash with only cuts and bruises, and was rescued by a Croat fishing boat, the commanding officer of 3 Regiment, Army Air Corps, Lieutenant-Colonel John Greenhalgh said in Ploce. "He's obviously been incredibly lucky.The aircraft turned upside own. He managed to escape and get to the surface."

Rescue helicopters found only debris, but army divers found the wreckage in 80ft of water. "It has been confirmed there are four bodies in the aircraft, which are being recovered," Col Greenhalgh said. All five men on board were from 3 Regiment and had arrived in Ploce three weeks ago to join the multi-national force, whose job is to protect UN peace-keepers in Bosnia. The Army would not release the names of the victims until their families had been informed.

An investigation is under way to discover why the Lynx, on routine reconnaissance training, ditched in the Adriatic, 5 miles south of Ploce. Officers have confirmed it was not the result of hostile action.

"This is a tragic accident which has saddened the entire brigade," said Brigadier Robin Brims, commander of 24 Air Mobile Brigade. Yesterday's incident - and the deaths on Igman the day before - highlight the dangers posed by the international involvement in Bosnia. Brig Brims was careful to praise the Croatian authorities for their support yesterday, but relations are not always good.

The Rapid Reaction Force must contend with the suspicion and demands of the Bosnian and Croatian governments, which have refused to allow some elements of the force to cross the border and deploy in Bosnia. Sarajevo fears the force's tanks, guns and helicopters may be to used to withdraw the peace-keeping force without Bosnian consent.

Units of French heavy artillery were forced to return to Ploce yesterday after trying to cross the frontier, apparently because a Bosnian Croat militia, like Zagreb and Sarajevo, demanded money for services and a veto over the force's action.

The refusal of Croatia and Bosnia to provide training areas may have contributed to yesterday's accident, UN officers said in Zagreb. The British brigade has been "confined to a swamp". As a result, equipment cannot be tested and pilots cannot be properly trained.