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Last Updated: Thursday, 18 August 2005, 22:12 GMT 23:12 UK
Spanish crash victims arrive home
Spanish King Juan Carlos (left) and son Prince Felipe (centre) salute as the bodies of 17 Spanish soldiers who died in a helicopter crash in Afghanistan arrive in Madrid
Investigators believe strong winds might have caused the crash
The bodies of 17 Spanish soldiers killed in a Puma helicopter crash in Afghanistan have arrived in Spain.

A solemn ceremony attended by King Juan Carlos, Crown Prince Felipe and Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero was held to mark their return.

All bodies have been identified, but autopsies will be carried out over the next few days.

The government has announced two days of national mourning. The date for the state funeral has yet to be announced.

The C-130 military transport aircraft carrying the bodies, accompanied by Defence Minister Jose Bono, landed at the Getafe military base near Madrid.

Family and friends stood by as the coffins draped in Spanish flags, were placed on special stands.

The hour-long ceremony was broadcast live on television.

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Investigators say strong winds probably caused the crash, which took place near the western Afghan city of Herat.

Some press reports quoting a soldier on board said the helicopters had come under fire, and a Taleban commander said his men shot the helicopter down.

Five soldiers were hurt when a second Puma crashed.

The troops were on a training exercise ahead of parliamentary elections in September.

Afghan claims

Mr Bono telephoned Spanish news agency Efe to emphasise that the bodies had been correctly identified.

The BBC's Danny Wood, in Madrid, says the government is very mindful of the scandal caused by a similar military disaster two years ago when a Russian-built YAK-42 plane crashed in Turkey, leaving 62 Spanish soldiers dead.

Thirty of those bodies were misidentified.

Spanish Isaf troops in Herat in May
Spain has about 850 troops deployed in the country

Mr Bono said that "no hypothesis can be ruled out" to explain the Afghanistan crash, but strong winds were the "most likely" cause.

A senior Afghan military official said the helicopters were not shot down, but rather that one of them might have hit the other while flying.

A top Taleban commander, Mullah Dadullah, told Reuters their fighters had shot down the helicopter but his claims could not be verified.

Spain has about 850 troops deployed in the country.

The area around Herat is generally considered more stable than areas of southern and eastern Afghanistan where the Taleban are more active.

There are currently more than 8,000 troops serving with Isaf, which is largely concentrated around Kabul.


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Relatives in Spain mourn those killed in the crash



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