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Marines in N.C. Await IDs of Crash Victims

February 19, 2006

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) _ The two Marine Corps helicopters that crashed off the coast of Africa, killing 10 service members, were from a unit based in North Carolina, U.S. military officials confirmed Sunday.

The two CH-53E choppers, carrying a dozen crew and troops from a U.S. counterterrorism force, went down during a training flight Friday in the Gulf of Aden, near the northern coastal town of Ras Siyyan in Djibouti.

Two crew members who were rescued were taken in stable condition to the U.S. military’s Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The aircraft were from Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464, based at Marine Corps Air Station New River.

The victims were two Air Force airmen and eight Marines; there was no immediate indication how many of the Marines were based in North Carolina.

``We were devastated,″ said Marine Corps 1st Lt. Paul Tremblay, who is based at Camp Lejeune, the huge post on the Atlantic Ocean that’s next to the New River air station. ``It hits us very hard as Marines when we lose anyone.″

A statement from the U.S.-led Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa said relatives of the 10 victims had been notified, but names of those killed were being withheld in deference to the family’s privacy.

``Our deepest sympathy and heartfelt prayers go out to the family members, friends, loved ones and co-workers of our fallen brothers- and sisters-in-arms,″ said Maj. Gen. Timothy Ghormley, commanding general of the counterterrorism force. ``We mourn their loss and honor their memory.″

Margaret Levens said her son, Sgt. Don Leo Ford Levens of Long Beach, Miss., was one of the Marines killed.

She said she was proud that her son had a chance to do what he loved.

``He was there to serve his country and to keep his family and country safe,″ Margaret Levens said. ``It was what he wanted to do. He was there for us ... in fact he had reenlisted for four (more) years.″

The remains of the eight Marines and two airmen were sent back to the United States on Sunday, task force spokeswoman Maj. Susan Romano told The Associated Press by telephone from Djibouti.

One of the two crew members who were rescued was Marine pilot Susan Craig, 28, who called her parents, Pat and Lewis Sackett of Fall Creek, Wis.

``She’s bruised and swollen, and her arms and legs got hurt, but no broken bones,″ Pat Sackett said.

She said her daughter was not sure what caused the crash.

The cause of the crash was under investigation. Military officials said there was no indication of hostile fire, and visibility was good with light wind.

It was a reminder of the danger of life in the military for the thousands of Marines at Camp Lejeune and New River.

``I don’t want to die doing anything, but they died serving their country,″ said Lance Cpl. Michael Jowers, a 21-year-old Marine from Jacksonville, Fla., who has already served one tour in Iraq. ``It’s just a risk you take. It’s just business.″

In December, 10 Marines assigned to the Lejeune-based 2nd Marine Division were killed outside Fallujah, Iraq, by an improvised bomb.

The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, set up in the former French colony in June 2002, is responsible for fighting terrorism in nine countries in the region: Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Somalia in Africa and Yemen on the southwestern corner of the Arabian Peninsula.

The impoverished region is home to a sizable Muslim population. U.S. officials say it has been used by terrorists as a place to hide, recruit operatives and stage attacks.

The region has suffered four attacks either claimed by or attributed to Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network, including bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania; and the 2002 attack on the USS Cole in Yemen.

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Editors: Associated Press writers Rodrique Ngowi in Nairobi, Kenya, and Valerie Bauman in Jackson, Miss., contributed to this report.

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On the Net:

MCAS New River: http://www.newriver.usmc.mil/

Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 464: http://www.2maw.usmc.mil/MAG29/HMH464/default.asp x

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