Troops killed after British aircraft crashes in Iraq


British troops died today when an RAF Hercules aircraft crashed in central Iraq. The British Prime Minister, Mr Tony Blair, confirmed the deaths this evening and paid tribute to those killed, but did not reveal how many perished in the tragedy.

The aircraft was en route from Baghdad to the city of Balad when it came down 25 miles north of the capital. 

Wreckage from the plane spread far and wide as British defence officials frantically tried to find out what happened.

It is still not clear how many crew were on board and whether it was carrying equipment or troops.

Mr Blair said that the British people were "yet again" reminded of the sacrifices that the armed forces made on behalf of their country and the "extraordinary" job they do.

"Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of those who lost their lives earlier today," he told a press conference.

"They can be so proud of what their loved ones accomplished. This country and the wider world will never forget them."

The plane, from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, crashed at 4.40pm local time (1.40pm Irish time).

Helicopters were at the scene and observing the wreckage, a US official said.   The incident was reported to the Ministry of Defence at 5.25pm local time (2.25pm Irish time).

A British Army spokesman in Iraq said: "We can confirm that a UK C130 Hercules has crashed in central Iraq.

"We are not able to confirm the safety of the crew or any passengers. The cause of the crash is not yet known."

At RAF Lyneham, Wing Commander Nigel Arnold said: "We are in the process of contacting the families of those involved and until that is done I'm, afraid we will not be releasing any details of the crew."

The plane, a US-built troop carrier used by both British and American forces, is capable of transporting around 50 soldiers.  Military sources in Iraq said the transport plane rarely travels north of Baghdad.

The source said the aircraft is primarily used to ferry troops from the British sector headquarters in Basra to the Iraqi capital.