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U.S. Army Helicopter Down

Aired February 21, 2002 - 15:33   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Once again, just to recap what we're getting from the Philippines, CNN has confirmed a U.S. Army helicopter has gone down off of the coast of the Philippines. We are told that 12 members who were of the U.S. Army were on board that helicopter.

And Jeff Levine is standing by at the Pentagon to bring us up to date on what more we may be learning right now -- Jeff, more news?

JEFF LEVINE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Bill, we are told it was an Army CH-47 Chinook helicopter. As you said, 12 people were on board.

We understand the aircraft went down about 120 miles northeast of Mindanao in the Philippines. That was about two hours ago. Search- and-rescue operations are currently under way. But, as of now, there are no reports of survivors. There is no indication, however, that there was hostile fire involved.

The aircraft went down about two hours ago. It was on what was called a routine transit from the Island of Basilan to Mactan. Now, Basilan, as you may know, is considered to be a stronghold for the Abu Sayyaf guerrilla movement that we are told has ties to al Qaeda which, of course, is the terrorist group involved in the activities in Afghanistan and thought to be responsible for the 9/11 attacks here in the United States.

Again, 12 people on board this helicopter, CH-47, that went down about two hours ago near the island of Mindanao -- Bill.

HEMMER: Hey, Jeff, quickly here, we have been reporting for several months now that U.S. forces have picked up with intensity their involvement there in the Philippines. What can you tell us about numbers right now on the ground. And how have they aided or assisted the Philippine military?

LEVINE: Well, Bill, we understand that there are a few dozen U.S. forces on the ground now in the Philippines, thought to -- that number thought to grow to several hundred over time. These troops are engaged in training exercises. They are limited as to what they can do by the Philippine constitution. Essentially, they are to advise, to direct, to counsel, and not to engage in direct action, basically there to train the Philippine forces in how to deal with terrorist activities.

If indeed all were lost on this particular mission, it would be the greatest tragedy in this emerging involvement.

HEMMER: And, Jeff, quickly, again, no evidence thus far of hostile fire, correct?

LEVINE: The Pentagon spokesperson telling us just a couple of minutes ago no indication, Bill, of hostile action.

HEMMER: All right, Jeff -- Jeff Levine at the Pentagon, keep us posted.

We will continue to track it.

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