Spanish helicopter in Afghanistan was attacked, say witnesses

08-17-2005, 09h10

A Spanish military helicopter that crashed in Afghanistan killing all 17 soldiers aboard was attacked, according to eyewitness reports carried in the Spanish press.

"We all felt a strong impact, like an explosion, and our helicopter began turning until it fell to the ground," said a soldier who was in a second Spanish helicopter affected by the blast, and who was among the five soldiers injured in the incident, which occurred on Tuesday near the western city of Herat.

The soldier, who was interviewed by phone by the La Voz de Galicia newspaper, did not give his name.

"The others, the ones in front, must have been hit full blast," he was quoted as saying.

"When we came down, their aircraft was already burning."

Spanish officials said on Tuesday that the second helicopter made an emergency landing after it saw the first aircraft crash.

Also in La Voz de Galicia, a parent of one of the dead soldiers was quoted as saying that they had received a call from the pilot of the second craft, informing them of the death of their son.

"Their helicopter was shot down. They were fired on from the ground, they were attacked," the pilot was quoted as telling the family.

The paper said that 10 of the 17 Spaniards who died in the incident were from Galicia, a region in the northwest of the country.

Most Spanish media meanwhile reported that only a few seconds before the crash, the pilots of the two craft were apparently unaware of any problems.

Six seconds before the incident, the pilots of the second helicopter asked the other over the radio how things were going.

"Great," the pilot of the aircraft which went down said.

Spanish Defence Minister Jose Bono, who arrived in Afghanistan on Wednesday to bring back the bodies of the dead, said earlier that it was possible that the aircraft had been attacked.

In Kabul, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to which the Spanish troops were attached said: "We still believe it was an accident, we don't believe it was hostile fire." However he added that the cause was not yet known.

The 17 Spaniards were on a training exercise ahead of upcoming parliamentary polls when they died.