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QUAKE, TSUNAMI U.S. helicopter on relief trip crashes; at least two are hurt



Published: Mon, January 10, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



A video of the devastating tsunami aired Sunday.

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia (AP) -- A U.S. helicopter with 10 people on board crashed in a rice paddy as it was trying to land at the Banda Aceh airport Monday while on a tsunami-relief operation, injuring at least two U.S. servicemen, a U.S. military spokesman said.

The injured men, along with eight other Navy personnel, were being flown back to their ship in the Lincoln battle group, said Capt. Joe Plenzler, a U.S. military spokesman in Medan, 250 miles southeast of Banda Aceh.

The U.S. military suspended helicopter flights for about two hours after the crash.

"Typically what happens whenever there is an event with an aircraft, they will suspend flight operations and start an investigation," Plenzler said. "It gives them time to pause and take a look at the safety situation. But they have since resumed flying."

The SH60 helicopter crashed in a rice paddy about 500 yards from the airport in Banda Aceh, the main city on Indonesia's tsunami-battered Sumatra island, as it was trying to land, he said.

"There was no fire ball but a little smoke. It landed on its side," Plenzler said, adding that the helicopter's propeller was twisted from the impact.

U.S. authorities said there was no indication the helicopter had been shot down.

Authorities quickly cordoned off the area and U.S. officials began searching the field around the crash site, apparently for debris.

The airport at Banda Aceh "is still functioning and the crash shouldn't effect relief operations," Plenzler said.

The helicopter was flying in personnel to the airport from the USS Abraham Lincoln group off the coast of Sumatra, he said.

"We can rule out ground fire, but until there is investigation the determination of the cause of the accident can't be made," Plenzler said.

Security concerns were heightened Sunday when a shooting incident occurred outside a United Nations compound in Banda Aceh. Local police blamed the shooting on separatist rebels who operate in the area, but nobody was injured and aid officials said they did not believe relief workers were targeted.

Videotape

A videotape shot as a tsunami swept through Indonesia's Aceh province aired for the first time Sunday and showed a roiling torrent of dark brown water engulfing a busy street, picking up cars and minivans and sending people scrambling up the sides of buildings.

The videotape, broadcast by Metro TV -- a commercial channel based in Jakarta, was shot by a cameraman named Hasyim who normally photographs weddings. He captured a horrific record of the Dec. 26 disaster as it unfolded, starting minutes after a giant undersea earthquake in the Indian Ocean toppled buildings and including a scene hours later showing a long line of corpses covered with cloth.

More than 104,000 Indonesians died in the catastrophe. The tsunami swept through southern Asia and as far as east Africa, killing more than 150,000 people in total.

The video was given worldwide distribution by Associated Press Television News and can be viewed on many Web sites that carry video news pictures.

The recording starts with people milling on the streets of the provincial capital, Banda Aceh, shortly after the magnitude-9.0 quake -- the world's biggest in four decades -- and climbing onto piles of rubble, unaware that a massive sea surge was heading toward them.

Some buildings had crumpled, with floors lying on top of one another, while others appeared undamaged.

As his videotape showed a building that became a pile of twisted girders, Hasyim told Metro TV that five construction workers were sleeping inside the unfinished structure when it collapsed, probably killing them all.




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