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Deaths confirmed in U.S. chopper crash

An army Chinook helicopter takes part in a night deployment on Basilan island  

MANILA, Philippines (CNN) -- At least three people have been confirmed dead after a U.S. military helicopter carrying 10 U.S. Army members crashed in the sea while on a routine mission in the Philippines, a U.S. official said.

U.S. commander Brig. Gen. Donald Wurster said on Friday three bodies were found during a joint U.S.-Philippine search-and-recovery mission in the southern Philippines.

The MH-47 Chinook went down around 2:30 a.m. (1830 GMT Thursday) just off the coast of the south-central city of Dumaguete about 150 miles northeast of Zamboanga City in the southern Philippines.

U.S. Pacific Command spokesman Maj. Sean Gibson said eight crew members and two passengers were on board, but all were U.S. service members.

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The helicopter was flying in tandem with another U.S. Army Chinook at the time of the crash, U.S. and Philippine military officials said.

The second helicopter reported the crash and remained on the scene to coordinate the search effort.

There was no indication the chopper was brought down by hostile fire, the Pentagon and Philippine military officials said.

The Pentagon said the helicopter crashed while it was on a routine transit from the southern island of Basilan -- a stronghold of Muslim rebels -- to the islet of Mactan in the southern-central Philippines, where the United States has a logistics air base.

It crashed about 30 minutes before it was scheduled to arrive.

Emergency landing

Also Friday, a U.S. plane involved in the search-and-recovery mission made an emergency landing at Mactan Air Base around noon (0400 GMT) after experiencing engine trouble. There were no injuries.

About 660 U.S. military personnel have been working with Philippine forces in the southern Philippines as part of a joint terrorism-training program.

About 200 of them are based at Mactan, mainly for air logistics support.

The military faces a host of armed Muslim groups based in the southern Philippines, including the Abu Sayyaf, the target of the military operation in Basilan.

The United States believes the Abu Sayyaf -- which is holding an American couple and a Philippine nurse hostage -- has ties to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network.

About 160 U.S. Special Forces were deployed this week to Basilan, where their goal is to train and assist the Philippine military in an operation to wipe out the Abu Sayyaf.

The U.S. forces plan to be in combat areas.

-- CNN Manila Bureau Chief Maria Ressa contributed to this report




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