U.S. Apache helicopter crashes in Albania
Some reservists to be called up for weekend departure
April 27, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. Apache attack helicopter crashed Monday night while on approach to the Tirana, Albania, airport, Pentagon officials said. Army sources say the two-man crew escaped the wreckage, which burst into flames after they got out.
They were taken by helicopter to Tirana and are said to be in good condition.
Initial reports say the helicopter, which was returning from a routine training mission, may have hit a tree and crashed several miles from the airport, following a night-time training exercise. Reports indicate the aircraft was fully loaded with munitions, which began to explode.
The U.S. European Command said in a statement from Germany that the AH-64 Apache crashed about 24 miles north-northeast of its base at Tirana airport.
At this point the incident is considered an accident, and there is no indication it was the result of hostile fire.
Five Apache attack helicopters were dispatched Monday to the Tirana airfield. They were to join 18 other helicopter gunships already there.
But the so-called tank-killing aircraft are not yet ready to take action in Kosovo, Pentagon officials told CNN.
Contrary to comments made by a NATO spokesman at the Monday morning briefing in Washington, it will still be some time before the full complement of ground support crews, "force protection" equipment and personnel are in place in Albania.
Also, prior to their use in combat, NATO leaders in Brussels must sign off on specific guidelines for their use known as rules of engagement. U.S. President Bill Clinton also will have to authorize the "employment" or actual use of the helicopters in a combat role. He has so far only authorized the deployment order.
Once the helicopters are sent into combat, Air Force Maj. Gen. Charles Wald said, "Any target in Kosovo that's a military target will be vulnerable from these aircraft."
Sources did not reveal the number of reservists to be called up, but the number was potentially as high as 33,000.
Some of those reservists will receive short notice to depart this weekend aboard 30 more tanker aircraft the Pentagon has ordered deployed to Operation Allied Force.
Pentagon spokesman Ken Bacon said the KC-10 and KC-135 inflight-refueling aircraft would deploy from bases in California, Arizona, Michigan and another unidentified state.
"These tankers will immediately help increase the tempo of air operations, allow us to keep planes on station for longer periods of time and increase the number of the hours of the day in which we're actually flying over or near Yugoslavia and Kosovo," Bacon said.
The 270 other U.S. planes requested by NATO are still on hold, while NATO works on plans to base them in places like Hungary, the newest NATO member, which shares a border with Yugoslavia.
In NATO's continuing effort to cut fuel supplies to Yugoslav military forces, U.S. ships may become part of a NATO plan to enforce an oil embargo against the Montenegrin port of Bar, where there are substantial oil storage and processing facilities.
The United States is pushing for rules of engagement that would allow NATO ships to board or fire on any ship, including Russian ships, that tries to break the embargo.
"If the summoned vessel takes flight, she may be pursued and brought to by forcible measures if necessary," said Bacon, citing U.S. Navy rules for so-called "visit and search" missions allowed under the laws of armed conflict.
U.S. officials hope that "quiet diplomacy" may persuade the Russians not to challenge any blockade.
Also Monday, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) confirmed that its representatives met with the three captured U.S. servicemen in Belgrade for about 15 minutes on Monday.
No doctors examined the men, but the ICRC notified the Pentagon, which relayed that the men were described as being in "reasonably good condition."
It was the first contact between the humanitarian organization and the U.S. soldiers who were captured one month ago near the Macedonian border.
"This visit did not comply with the rules or conventions under international law, the Geneva Convention, in that they were not allowed to see these prisoners alone, they were escorted by representatives of the Yugoslav government," Bacon said. "The rules say they should be allowed to meet with them alone."
Bacon also said the ICRC has been promised a second visit to the three American soldiers. Bacon was asked if the POWs were allowed to communicate with their families.
"According to the ICRC, the representatives brought -- and the representatives included the president of the ICRC -- messages to the soldiers," Bacon said. "And tomorrow, if the meeting takes place, the soldiers will respond to those message."
The ICRC had previously been denied access to the soldiers: Sgt. Andrew A. Ramirez, 24, of Los Angeles; Spc. Steven M. Gonzalez, 21, of Huntsville, Texas; and Staff Sgt. Christopher J. Stone, 25, of Smiths Creek, Michigan.
News of the Red Cross visit caused rejoicing in Los Angeles, where the mother of Staff Sgt. Ramirez said she and her daughter "just hugged and praised the Lord."
Vivian Ramirez, a librarian at Eastmont Elementary School, said the rest of her day was just a blur.
"I was on cloud nine all the way, I don't know how I got to school, but I was on cloud nine all the way here," said Ramirez. "Everyone could notice."
Lisa McKinney, Stone's mother-in-law, said it was the first news about the men since they were shown, bruised and beaten, on Serbian television following their capture.
"That's the best part. They're alive and breathing," she told reporters in San Antonio, Texas.
"We've been told they're in good condition, or as good condition as can be expected. We'll know more after a doctor visits them," McKinney added.
Yugoslav officials promised safe passage to Belgrade for Jackson and his delegation. Jackson also said he has permission to visit and photograph the three POWs and to meet with Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic.
"Right now it's as if Milosevic and Clinton are locked into a bear hug and neither can turn the other loose," Jackson said. "This could very well be a kind of breakthrough."
Lockhart said Jackson was informed of the "risks" of visiting Yugoslavia, given the continuing NATO airstrikes. Jackson was also briefed about the requirements Yugoslavia would need to accept to generate a pause or a cessation in the NATO air campaign, Lockhart said.
Correspondents Jamie McIntyre, Wolf Blitzer and Chris Black and Producer Chris Plante and Reuters contributed to this report.
CNN INDEPTH SPECIALS:
Red Cross sees captured U.S. soldiers
Extensive list of Kosovo-related sites:
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