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Last Updated: Monday, 10 January, 2005, 06:28 GMT
US aid helicopter crashes in Aceh
Rescuers try to carry out injured crew members from the crashed helicopter
The Seahawk helicopters are vital to the relief effort
A US Navy helicopter has crashed on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, while on a mission to bring aid to victims of the tsunami disaster.

At least two of the 10 people on board were injured when the SH-60 Seahawk came down near Banda Aceh airport.

The US military was forced to suspend air operations for two hours following Monday morning's crash.

Sumatra was the landmass closest to the epicentre of the huge earthquake which triggered the tsunami.

The crash happened at 0715 local time (0015 GMT) as the helicopter flew in personnel from the USS Abraham Lincoln battle group, based off the Sumatra coast.

It crashed into a rice paddy about 500 metres from the airport, which is a vital hub for transporting aid to remote parts of Aceh province.

An AFP agency reporter at the scene said the machine appeared to be intact but its rotor blades were damaged.

The injured were flown back to their ship.

Airport closures

The navy described the crash as a "hard landing", ruling out fears it had been shot down.

"There was no fire ball but a little smoke. It landed on its side," Capt Joe Plenzler, a US military spokesman in Medan 400km (250 miles) south-east from Banda Aceh, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying.

"We can rule out ground fire, but until there is investigation the determination of the cause of the accident can't be made."

The BBC's Christian Fraser in Banda Aceh says the US navy's airlift capability is vital to the massive relief operation in the region.

In the last week, 15 Seahawk helicopters from the Abraham Lincoln group have ferried urgently-needed supplies up and down the coast.

This is the second time Banda Aceh airport has been forced to shut, albeit briefly.

A cargo plane that hit water buffalo on the runway last Tuesday forced the airport to close for more than 15 hours.




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