10 believed killed in Hercules crash

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The Independent Online

Nine Royal Air Force personnel and one soldier are missing believed killed in yesterday's crash of an RAF C-130 Hercules in Iraq, the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said today.

Nine Royal Air Force personnel and one soldier are missing believed killed in yesterday's crash of an RAF C-130 Hercules in Iraq, the Defence Secretary Geoff Hoon said today.

Mr Hoon said: "UK and US forces have secured the crash site, and are now recovering the bodies and attempting to ascertain the cause of the crash. We are aware of reports that the aircraft may have been shot down, but we are not in a position to come to any conclusions until the investigation is complete."

He added: "The deaths of these servicemen are especially poignant on a day when Iraqis were able to enjoy the freedom of democratic elections for the first time in many years."

The aircraft, from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, had taken off from Baghdad towards the city of Balad when it came down 25 miles north of the capital. Balad, 42 miles north of Baghdad, houses one of the largest US air bases in Iraq.

The militant Ansar al-Islam group today claimed on a website it had brought down the Hercules with an anti-tank missile as it flew at low altitude. Established after the 9/11 attacks, Ansar al-Islam is one of Iraq's older extremist groups and has been linked to al-Qa'ida.

There was no way to confirm or discount its claim. Nevertheless a senior US military officer said yesterday that the wreckage of the plane was scattered over a large area, suggesting a mid-air explosion.

Later the Arab television station al-Jazeera aired footage that appeared to show evidence that insurgents shot down the plane.

A spokesman for al-Jazeera said the television station received the video from a group that called itself "the Green Brigade, which is one of the brigades of the 1920 Revolution Brigade, a military wing of the National Islamic Resistance in Iraq".

The videotape showed footage of a finger pressing a button, and then footage of two missiles or rockets flying up into the air. The video did not show any impact with a plane. Instead, the video cut to footage of people walking through a plane's wreckage burning on the ground.

It was not immediately possible to determine if the wreckage was that of the British C-130 Hercules.

One of the men who died when an RAF Hercules crashed in central Iraq was today named as a father of three originally from Australia.

Flight Lieutenant Paul Pardoel, 35, from Victoria state, became the first Australian killed on military service in Iraq and Australian officials confirmed the death.

A Ministry of Defence statement said: "The Department of Defence can confirm that a former member of the Royal Australian Air Force who had enlisted in the Royal Air Force was a casualty on board the C130 Hercules that crashed in Iraq."

Flt Lt Pardoel, his wife and young son and daughters have been living in England for the past three years, Associated Press reported.

The tragedy is the biggest single loss of life involving British forces in Iraq since since March 2003, when eight British troops died as the US helicopter they were in crashed.

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