U.S. soldiers killed in Apache helicopter crash
May 5, 1999
BELGRADE, Yugoslavia (CNN) -- In the first NATO casualties of Operation Allied Force, the two crew members of a U.S. Army Apache attack helicopter were killed when their aircraft crashed in Albania early Wednesday.
The Pentagon confirmed the deaths. A statement from the U.S. European Command said the pilots were killed when their AH- 64 helicopter crashed on a training mission about 1:30 a.m. local time Wednesday, about 75 kilometers (45 miles) northeast of Tirana-Rinas airport in Albania.
In the statement, the USEC said "The aircraft and crew were assigned to Task Force Hawk. A MEDEVAC helicopter was immediately launched. There is no initial indication of hostile fire. The cause of the crash is under investigation."
The names of the dead crew members are not expected to be released until next-of-kin have been notified.
The chopper was the second Apache to crash since 24 of the aircraft were dispatched to Albania last month. So far the Apaches have not been deployed in attacks on Yugoslavia.
The Apaches are used in extreme low-level night flying. They are heavily armed and are known as "tank killers".
The first helicopter went down near its base at Tirana airport on April 26, also during a training mission. The two crewmen escaped without serious injury.
The fatalities came as U.S. President Bill Clinton met American military personnel involved in the attacks on Yugoslavia. Clinton was in Brussels for briefings with NATO officials including Secretary-General Javier Solana.
He then went on to Germany where he visited air bases being used by NATO aircraft to launch attacks on Yugoslavia.
So far, in the offensive against Yugoslavia, NATO has lost an F-16, which NATO said crashed after experiencing engine failure.
The second lost plane was a Harrier jump jet, which crashed into the Adriatic Sea while returning to the amphibious assault carrier USS Kearsarge from a training mission. Pilots from both aircraft were rescued.
Previously, NATO lost an F-117 stealth fighter, which went down in Serbia on March 27. Four pilotless "drones" have also been lost.
Release of Serbian POWs mulled
The crash comes only days after three American soldiers held captive in Yugoslavia were released and as Clinton on Tuesday instructed Defense Secretary William Cohen to review whether it was possible for the United States to release two Serb soldiers being held as prisoners of war, administration sources tell CNN.
The president is said to be in favor of making a reciprocal gesture after Belgrade's release of three American servicemen, and U.S. officials said there have been no objections from other NATO members.
CNN first reported Monday that the issue was under review.
But U.S. officials say a final decision has not been made, citing several complications.
Chief among them, according to a senior administration official, are "legal issues covered by the Geneva convention" -- including whether the two men want to be released to the Yugoslav government.
This source and another administration official said this was "a major complication with at least one of these men."
Another official said there was a distinction between the Serbs and the U.S. soldiers because the Serbs were "combatants" while -- in the eyes of the United States -- the U.S. soldiers were not. Washington has said the three American soldiers were in Macedonia when they were apprehended; Yugoslavia says they had crossed into Kosovo.
The officials said there were other complications as well but declined to elaborate, except to say there were no apparent objections within the NATO alliance. Both POWs are being held by U.S. forces and have been transferred to a U.S. base in Germany, according to administration sources.
The president is said to look favorably on the idea of releasing the men, "but no final decision has been made," one of the officials said.
Clinton said Tuesday that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic made "the right decision" in releasing the three GIs. They were turned over to Jesse Jackson, who urged Clinton to free the Serb POWs as a gesture of goodwill.
One of the officials said the decision did not appear to be imminent but did not rule out that it could come during the president's three-day trip to Europe.
Annan, Chernomyrdin talk
Also Tuesday, the United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan and the Russian Special Envoy to the Balkans Viktor Chernomyrdin discussed approaches to a political solution to the Kosovo crisis at U.N. headquarters in New York.
Though the pair did not announce any major breakthroughs, the Secretary General's office said they "identified a number of areas on which further consultations with countries concerned would be necessary." They also agreed to continue working together "in the attempt to move the political process forward."
Chernomyrdin later told reporters he "will keep on this shuttle diplomacy until this conflict is resolved." As far as the NATO demand for an international security force in Kosovo, the Russian envoy declared "the type of force is subject to negotiation."
Clinton meets NATO brass
Clinton's 48-hour European trip will include meetings with Kosovar refugees in Ingelheim, Germany.
Before departing for Europe, Clinton said he was willing to "seize every diplomatic possibility" to end the Kosovo crisis, but insisted that Belgrade must meet NATO's demands before it would halt the bombing campaign.
He singled out NATO's demand that Kosovo refugees be allowed to return home safely as not negotiable. "We need to remember that there is no middle ground between returning these innocent people to their homes and turning away from their faith," Clinton said.
"Whatever can be negotiated, it is not that. They have to be able to go home safe and secure." NATO has demanded that withdraw all forces from Kosovo, allow the refugees to return, and accept an international peacekeeping force in Kosovo.
Dozens of targets hit
Meanwhile, NATO maintained the pressure on Yugoslavia with attacks on targets Tuesday even after Clinton on Monday said NATO would consider a pause in the bombing against Yugoslavia "under the right circumstances."
The attacks ushered in the 41st day of NATO's Operation Allied Force with strikes on 40 fixed targets.
NATO spokesman Jamie Shea said, "No part of the Yugoslav army was spared."
He said NATO forces were able to "pin those forces down, cut them off from their supply chain and resupply routes and to take them out progressively and deliberately."
A U.S. F-16 shot down a Yugoslav MiG-29 fighter near the Yugoslav-Bosnian border, the Pentagon said. NATO estimates that it has destroyed more than half of Yugoslavia's best fighters.
NATO's military spokesman, Gen. Walter Jertz, said NATO had essentially "pinned down" Yugoslav ground forces, making it impossible for them to move large numbers of troops. He said NATO had hit the 125th motorized brigade of the Yugoslav Army in western Kosovo and the 233rd motorized brigade in eastern Kosovo "especially hard." But he admitted that 11,600 refugees had been put on trains and sent to Macedonia by Yugoslav forces
A radio-television relay station in Novi Sad was hit. In addition, Shea said that five petroleum facilities were hit along with seven lines of communication, five army facilities, two command facilities, six command, control and communications facilities, and five airfields.
NATO said all its aircraft returned safely to their bases despite Serb claims one had been shot down.
Serbian TV said two missiles struck a television station in Serbia's second largest city of Novi Sad, causing extensive damage.
Yugoslav National Radio reported a barrage of attacks on oil refineries in Novi Sad and the small town of Pozego in the overnight raids. A bridge over the Danube River in Ostruznica, near Belgrade, was hit, as was a bridge over the Morava in Grdelicka Valley, about 50 miles south of the city of Nis.
In another development, NATO said there was no evidence it was responsible for an attack Monday on a bus in Kosovo that Yugoslav media said killed 20 civilians and injured 43 others.
"We have no indication at all that our aircraft were involved in that incident," Shea said.
In Washington on Monday Clinton said current initiatives from Milosevic fell far short of what it would take to end the NATO strikes.
"Our air campaign cannot stop until Mr. Milosevic shows that he is ready to end the nightmare for the people of Kosovo," Clinton said.
White House correspondent John King and CNN National Security Producer Chris Plante contributed to this report.
Clinton heads to Europe for NATO bombing update
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