Page last updated at 17:50 GMT, Thursday, 3 February 2005

Hercules crash site search ends

Hercules aircraft
The Hercules has a reputation for reliability

Investigators examining the site where an RAF Hercules transport plane crashed in Iraq have finished their search.

Nine airmen and a soldier died in the crash 20 miles north-west of Baghdad, but no cause has yet been found.

The crash was the single largest loss of British life in Iraq since military action began in 2003.

A Ministry of Defence statement said that it would take time to identify the remains but that they would be returned to the UK as quickly as possible.

There has been speculation that the plane might have been the victim of "hostile action".

It was said by officials to be on a routine flight from Baghdad to the massive US base at Balad.

Identifying remains

A MoD statement said "a thorough and extensive search of the crash site has taken place with the assistance of US forces".

It went on to say: "Sadly, the process of identifying remains may take some time to complete, but repatriation to the UK will take place as soon as possible.

"We are continuing to investigate the full circumstances of the crash. The head of the investigation team has visited the site and remains in theatre."

Those killed included eight men from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, another RAF serviceman and one soldier.

The Lyneham crew members were Flt Lt David Stead, 35, Flt Lt Andrew Smith, 25, Flt Lt Paul Pardoel, 35, Master Engineer Gary Nicholson, 42, Chief Technician Richard Brown, 40, Flt Sgt Mark Gibson, 34, and Sgt Robert O'Connor, 38. Cpl David Williams, 37, was also from Lyneham and also on board.

The ninth RAF man on board, Sqn Ldr Patrick Marshall, 39, was from Strike Command Headquarters, at RAF High Wycombe.

Acting L/Cpl Steven Jones, 25, was a soldier serving with the Royal Signals and a crew member on the Hercules.

Meanwhile, the MoD has dismissed comparisons in a newspaper between US payments for service personnel killed in Iraq and British payments as misleading.

The Daily Mirror said death benefits of 27,000 paid to dead soldiers' families in the UK was "pathetic" in comparison to the US figure of $500,000 (270,000).

But a spokeswoman pointed that the figure of 27,000 was a lump sum payment for a private, and that widows and widowers were also paid a large pension for the rest of their life.

A new pension scheme - announced in September 2003 - will also increase death benefits from 5 April, with the lump sum rising to four times the salary of the deceased soldier.

The US announced on Tuesday that it would increase death payments by $250,000 (133,000).

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Footage purportedly showing the Hercules shot down

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