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Last Updated:  Monday, 24 March, 2003, 16:10 GMT
Commander mourns 'tragic loss'
Royal Navy Sea King Airborne helicopter
Seven dead in helicopter crash

The commanding officer at RNAS Culdrose has been speaking about the "tragic loss" of seven aircrew killed in the Gulf.

Six Britons and one American from the base died when two Sea King Helicopters collided five miles out from aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal on Saturday.

Captain Mike Knowles said in a short statement: "Many members of the public have been phoning the base with messages of condolence.

"I would like to thank the community for its sympathy and support.

"Our thoughts remain with the families of those who died."

Our thoughts are with the families at this sad time
Mike Stokes, Dubai

Captain Knowles said the names of the deceased had not yet been released at the wish of the families.

A flypast in tribute to the men who died was held at RNAS Culdrose on Monday morning.

Flowers have been left at the gate of the base where a service for the dead servicemen was held on Sunday.

Memorial service

At St Michael's Church in the nearby town of Helston, the Rev David Miller said: "The focus of our prayers were with the families of those killed in the Gulf.

"We are shocked and devastated by what has happened and Helston is a close-knit community."

A special memorial service is to be held in Helston this week.

Mayor Nick Martin said members of the public wanted to pay their respects.

Mr Martin was in the Navy for 26 years and was on board the Atlantic Conveyor, which was blown up and sunk in the Falklands.

And he said he owed a special debt of gratitude to former Sea King crews as they were responsible for the rescue operation that followed the bombing.

The seven crewmembers from RNAS Culdrose died after an accident at about 0115 GMT (0415 local time).

It is thought that one of the helicopters had been refuelling on board aircraft carrier HMS Ark Royal, while the other was believed to have been returning from a mission.

The helicopters were part of the Royal Navy's 849 Squadron Airborne Early Warning team at the Helston base.

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