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Page last updated at 11:47 GMT, Tuesday, 1 February 2005

Hercules death crash investigated

Hercules C130K
The deaths represent the largest single loss of British life in Iraq since military action began

The UK has sent a senior official to Iraq to investigate why a British Hercules plane came down with the probable loss of 10 lives.

The plane crashed 25 miles (40km) north-west of Baghdad on Sunday night.

The Al-Jazeera TV channel has broadcast apparent claims by insurgents that they shot down the aircraft. The Ministry of Defence has not verified this.

The MoD says the plane was on a routine transport flight. The BBC's Mark Urban says special forces were on board.

'Burning wreckage'

Nine RAF personnel and one soldier have been confirmed as missing, believed dead, in the crash.

The Ministry of Defence has refused to comment on newspaper reports the soldier was an Army NCO attached to the SAS.

Australian airman Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, 35, of Victoria State, is the only one of the 10 victims to be named so far.

The father-of-three, who had lived in the UK for three years, is thought to be the first Australian serving in Iraq to die.

The deaths represent the largest single loss of British life in Iraq since military action began.

We have people on the ground sifting through the aircraft wreckage looking for clues
Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, RAF

The video shown on Al-Jazeera was reported to have come from insurgents who claim they shot down the plane, showing burning wreckage on the ground.

The footage did not show missiles hitting a plane, and it was not certain that the wreckage was that of a Hercules C-130.

An MoD spokesman said press reports of a bomb on board were "speculation".

'Hostile forces'

"We are not going to speculate about the causes until we have got a clear picture," they said.

"Bombs on board, missile strikes, explosions - that's a matter for the crash investigators to work through and advise on."

Marshy terrain and hostile local forces were likely to hamper the investigation which could take weeks, they added.

Air Chief Marshal Sir Jock Stirrup, the RAF's chief of air staff, said he has "no evidence at all" to dispute or confirm claims made about the video footage.

Australian airman Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, 35, of Victoria State, with wife Kellie
Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, 35, of Victoria State, with wife Kellie

"We have people on the ground sifting through the aircraft wreckage looking for clues," he said.

Wreckage from the C-130 plane, which is known for its reliability, was spread over a wide area, after crashing in fine conditions at 1725 local time (1425 GMT).

BBC correspondent Mark Urban said the "first tell-tale sign" the plane was carrying Special Air Service (SAS) personnel was that it was flying from Baghdad to the US Balad airbase where there were no British troops.

"This suggests either that British special forces were involved in... what they call a quick hop, taking supplies and other troops forward, or the flight was part of some sensitive surveillance-type operation."

'Deepest condolences'

A statement from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, where the Hercules was based, said the families of those believed dead had been contacted.

Their names are expected to be released on Tuesday.

Plane wreckage shown in the video screened by Al-Jazeera
It is unclear if the wreckage shown in the video is of a Hercules C-130

A spokesman for Al-Jazeera said the video came from a faction of the 1920 Revolution Brigade, a group named after the uprising against the British after World War I.

Speaking on GMTV, Prime Minister Tony Blair expressed "sympathy and condolences" to the families of those who died.

Balad is home to about 25,000 US troops and has been the frequent target of mortar attacks by Iraqi insurgents.

The MoD has a phone number for concerned relatives to call: 08457 800 900

video and audio news
Footage purportedly showing the Hercules shot down



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