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Army: RPG likely caused Black Hawk collision

Incident two weeks ago was deadliest of Iraq conflict

U.S. soldiers search the debris of two Black Hawk helicopters destroyed November 15.
U.S. soldiers search the debris of two Black Hawk helicopters destroyed November 15.

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Black Hawk helicopter
U.S. Army

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) -- The collision of two U.S. Army Black Hawk helicopters that killed 17 American soldiers two weeks ago probably was caused by a rocket-propelled grenade that hit one of the aircraft, an Army officer said Sunday.

The crash November 15 in Mosul, northern Iraq, was the deadliest single incident for U.S. troops since the Iraq war began.

Col. Joe Anderson said that though the investigation was not conclusive, it appeared that "some form of groundfire" -- likely an RPG -- hit one of the helicopters, sending it into the path of the other Black Hawk.

"Obviously it was a collision, and it appears that the collision was caused by one of them being hit by something from the ground, probably a rocket," said Anderson, whose 2nd Brigade of the 101st Airborne Division controls Mosul.

All of the soldiers killed were assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, which is based at Fort Campbell, Kentucky. Five soldiers survived and were flown to Landstuhl, Germany, for treatment.

Anderson said one of the UH-60 Black Hawks was carrying a quick-reaction force in response to a drive-by shooting at a bank in Mosul.

The second helicopter was flying through the area on an unrelated mission, he said.

Reports at the time indicated one helicopter ascended to avoid groundfire, a military source told CNN. "This caused a rotor strike with the second helicopter," the source said.

Residents of the area said one chopper crashed into a school in western Mosul and the other hit a house 250 meters away. No Iraq casualties were reported. A military official said the crash set several buildings on fire.

Counting another solider killed in a roadside bombing in northern Baghdad, the death toll of 18 made November 15 the deadliest day for American troops since March 23, when 29 soldiers and Marines died fighting in and around the southern city of Nasiriya.

Two weeks earlier, on November 2, 16 soldiers were killed and 27 wounded when a shoulder-fired missile brought down a CH-47 Chinook transport helicopter near Fallujah, 60 kilometers (37 miles) west of Baghdad. Most of those killed and wounded were headed out of Iraq for rest and recreation leave.

The two incidents were the deadliest in the deadliest month of the war for coalition troops.

With the deaths of two U.S. soldiers Saturday, the number of coalition troops killed in Iraq during November reached 100 -- more than in March or April, when the war was in full force. Eighty-eight of the soldiers died under hostile fire.

The deaths include 81 Americans, 17 Italians killed in the bombing of the Italian military headquarters in Nasiriya, a British soldier who died in a traffic accident and a Polish major killed when his convoy was shelled. (Deaths by month)

As of Sunday, 437 U.S. troops have been killed in the Iraq war, 298 of them since President Bush declared the end of major combat operations on May 1.

The Associated Press reported an estimated 3,240 civilian Iraqi deaths between March 20 and April 20, but the AP said the figure was based on records of only half of Iraq's hospitals and that the actual number was thought to be significantly higher.

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