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Army: Enemy fire caused copter collision in Iraq

Fri., Feb. 27, 2009, 8:14 a.m.

Colville pilot among the four killed

FORT DRUM, N.Y. — Enemy fire caused two U.S. Army helicopters to collide in Iraq last month, killing four American pilots from Fort Drum, including one from Colville, military officials said Friday.

The Defense Department initially said the cause of the Jan. 26 crashes near Kirkuk didn’t appear to be an attack. But on Thursday, the Army said forensic evidence revealed that the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters collided while evading enemy fire and crashed.

The details were announced after a memorial service for the soldiers at Fort Drum, where they were based.

“The two OH-58D helicopters were engaged and struck by hostile fire while conducting a reconnaissance mission,” Fort Drum spokeswoman Julie Cupernall said Friday.

According to a report from the U.S. Army Aircraft Shootdown Assessment Team and the Joint Combat Assessment Team, the aircraft were hit while maneuvering to evade the fire and collided, Cupernall said.

The investigation into the incident continues, she said.

A Sunni nationalist group had claimed responsibility for the attack in a posting on an extremist Web site.

Pilots Benjamin Todd, 29 of Colville, Wash.; Philip Windorski Jr., 35, of Bovey, Minn.; Matthew Kelley, 30 of Cameron, Mo.; and Joshua Tillery, 31, of Beaverton, Ore., were warrant officers in the 10th Mountain Division’s 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.

A ceremony honoring the pilots was held Thursday evening at Fort Drum, with family members and fellow soldiers sharing memories of the men. All four pilots were married and had children.

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