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'No survivors' in U.S. chopper crash

CH-47 Chinook helicopter  

ZAMBOANGA, Philippines -- A U.S. air force general has said there is no chance of finding survivors in the crash of an American helicopter in the Philippines.

The huge MH-47 Chinook helicopter with eight American crew and two soldiers on board went down during a night light in the Bohol Strait, south of the capital Manila, on Friday.

Three bodies had already been found but hundreds of Filipino and U.S. military personnel have been scouring waters in the southern Philippines for the seven missing U.S. soldiers.

The ten servicemen are considered the first casualties in what is viewed as the second front of the United States' stepped-up war on terror.

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The American troops are taking part in an exercise with their Philippine counterparts in a bid to defeat Muslim rebels Abu Sayyaf, which Washington has linked to Osama bin Laden and his al Qaeda network.

'No chance'

"We have determined that there is no chance that we will find survivors," Brigadier-General Donald Wurster, chief of special forces of the U.S. Pacific Command, told Reuters reporters in southern Zamboanga city

The helicopter went down while it was flying in tandem with another U.S. Army Chinook, which reported the crash.

Pentagon and Philippine military officials have said there was no indication the chopper was brought down by hostile fire.

The helicopter was on a routine transit from the southern island of Basilan -- a stronghold of the Muslim rebels -- to the islet of Mactan in the southern-central Philippines, where the United States has a logistics air base.

It crashed about 30 minutes before it was scheduled to arrive.

The rescue effort has now become a recovery mission, Wurster said on Sunday, adding that the American presence in the country to fight terrorism would continue.

Three Navy ships, a Coast Guard vessel, six helicopters and nine motorized outriggers were being used in the recovery effort.

Little found so far

All debris would be turned over to a U.S. investigating team now on its way to the Philippines to determine the cause of the accident, Wurster added.

By late Saturday, the search had yielded a rotor, a fuse box, the fuselage, a pilot's helmet, a seat and the landing gear, The Associated Press reported.

Memorial services will be held on Tuesday on the central Philippine island of Cebu, where other U.S. military personnel are being deployed to provide support for the six-month exercise.

More than 600 U.S. soldiers are taking part in the exercise, which calls for about 160 special forces to go out on patrol with Filipinos in jungles of Basilan island, an Abu Sayyaf stronghold.

The Abu Sayyaf has been holding a U.S. missionary couple and a Filipino hostage for nearly nine months on Basilan, a turtle-shaped, largely Muslim island about three times the size of Singapore.

-- CNN Manila Bureau Chief Maria Ressa contributed to this report




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