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U.S. Helicopter Down In Honduras; Ten U.S. Soldiers Injured

March 22, 1988

TEGUCIGALPA, Honduras (AP) _ A U.S. military helicopter crashed Monday during a training exercise near the Honduran town of Juticalpa and all 10 American soldiers aboard were injured, U.S. officials reported.

Maj. Gary Hovatter, spokesman for the American forces sent to Honduras last week, said the UH-1 Huey helicopter went down at about 1 p.m. EST and he called the crash an accident.

In Washington, Pentagon spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Mel Sundin said there were 10 people aboard the helicopter, not nine as previously thought. Their injuries did not appear to be serious.

″All are in good to excellent condition,″ Sundin said. He added that those aboard the chopper were American soldiers, but did not have further details.

Capt. Nancy LaLuntas, a Pentagon spokeswoman, said earlier that there were no reports of fatalities. She said other helicopters evacuated the victims for medical treatment but it was not clear where they were taken.

One Pentagon official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the cause of the crash appeared to be mechanical.

Hovatter said the helicopter was taking part in an exercise called ″Golden Pheasant,″ which was launched after 3,200 U.S. soldiers arrived in Honduras last week.

President Reagan sent the troops as a warning to Nicaragua after U.S. and Honduran officials said Nicaraguan soldiers crossed into Honduras to attack base camps of U.S.-backed Nicaraguan rebels.

Neither Hovatter nor LaLuntas gave further information on the injured soldiers because the victims’ relatives had not yet been notified.

The officers said the helicopter crashed about six miles south of Juticalpa. The area is 35 miles north of the Honduras-Nicaragua border and about 60 miles west of the region where Nicaraguan troops battled the rebels last week.

The troops sent to Honduras were from the 82d Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg, N.C., and the 7th Light Infantry from Fort Ord, Calif.

All aboard the helicopter were from the 82nd Airborne, Chip Barkley, a spokesman with the American Embassy in Tegucigalpa, told Raleigh radio station WPTF-AM.

But Pentagon sources said the helicopter that crashed apparently was assigned to U.S. forces in Panama and was not airlifted to Honduras by the airborne division.

The Reagan administration has said the troops were not sent to combat against Nicaragua’s Sandinista army. Administration sources said Monday it appeared the fighting was ending and the Sandinistas were withdrawing from Honduran territory.

The Pentagon maintains a force of about 1,100 military personnel in Honduras as part of Joint Task Force Bravo to oversee training exercises in the Central American country.

The UH-1 helicopter is a single-engine transport craft.

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