U.S. helicopter crashes in Iraq; status of crew unknown

BAGHDAD (AP) — A helicopter with a crew of two crashed north of Baghdad Monday, the military said. No casualties were immediately reported.

There was no word on the cause. The military had few details, saying only the helicopter went down around 8:20 a.m.

Helicopters used by the Army that have a two-person crew include the AH-64 Apache and the OH-58 Kiowa reconnaissance.

The number of fatal U.S. military helicopter crashes in Iraq has spiked in recent weeks, fitting a wartime pattern of more frequent accidental and combat crashes during winter months.

An OH-58 Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance helicopter crashed near Mosul on Friday, killing two pilots.

Earlier this month, a Black Hawk with 12 aboard crashed in bad weather near the northern city of Tal Afar. All eight soldiers and four civilians aboard were killed. Weather has not been officially declared the cause.

The overall safety record of Army and Marine Corps helicopters has been good, military officials and private analysts say, given the enormous amount of flying in often-harsh conditions.

Army helicopters alone have logged nearly 1 million flight hours since the war began, with the UH-60 Black Hawk accounting for nearly one-third of the total, according to Army Aviation Warfighting Center records.

A total of seven Black Hawks have crashed during the war. The second-most heavily used Army helicopter, the AH-64 Apache, has crashed four times and the No. 3 helicopter, the Kiowa Warrior, has gone down seven times. Some were accidents, others were caused by hostile fire and some are still under investigation.

Of the 15 most recent fatal crashes, nine were during winter months. The deadliest was Jan. 26, 2005, when all 31 Marines aboard a CH-53 Sea Stallion transport crashed in bad weather in the western desert.