A U.S. helicopter en route to pick up an accidentally wounded U.S. military adviser crashed in bad weather near San Salvador, killing six Americans and injuring a seventh, the U.S. Embassy said Thursday.
One of those killed in the crash was Air Force Lt. Col. James M. Basile, 43, of Cheshire, Conn., the deputy commander of the U.S. Military Group attached to the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, according to a Defense Department spokeswoman in Washington.
A U.S. Embassy source said the other five dead all were Army personnel--two medics, another military adviser and two crewmen.
An embassy spokesman said their identities were being withheld pending notification of relatives. However, a Salvadoran justice of the peace identified them as Lt. Col. Joseph Librado Lujan, 43; 2nd Lt. Gregory J. Paredes, 24; Sgt. Linn V. Keen, 27, and John Douglas Raibon, 39, and Douglas Lee Adams, identified only as soldiers.
Bound for Training Center
The crash brings to 17 the number of Americans killed in El Salvador since the war between the U.S.-backed government and leftist guerrillas began in 1979.
The Huey UH-1H helicopter went down “because of bad weather” at 10:52 p.m., seven minutes after it left the capital, said Col. Ron Sconyers, director of public affairs for the U.S. Southern Command in Panama.
The flight was bound for the Salvador military training center in La Union, 113 miles east of the capital, to pick up a U.S. trainer wounded in the neck when another soldier’s M-16 rifle accidentally discharged in the barracks, Sconyers said.
The craft hit a steep cliff along the side of Lake Ilopango, about 10 miles east of San Salvador, he said.
Robert Sims, the Pentagon’s chief spokesman, said the U.S. helicopter was trying to return to the Lake Ilopango military base at the time of the crash.
Rebels Not to Blame
The survivor and the soldier wounded in La Union were in very serious condition at the Military Hospital in San Salvador, the embassy said. Their identities were being withheld.
The helicopter that crashed was one of several maintained in the capital for use by U.S. Embassy and military personnel.
Leftist guerrillas had nothing to do with the crash, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Jacob Gillespie.
“It was not shot upon,” he said. “As far as we can assume, the cause was a squall line that came in.”
Banned From Combat
There are about 150 U.S. military personnel, including 55 advisers, in El Salvador. The advisers arrived in 1981 to train the Salvadoran army in their fight against the rebels, grouped as the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front. Congress set a ceiling of 55 military advisers, who are banned from going into combat situations.
A classified number of CIA personnel work with the Salvadoran army and are not under restrictions. In March, a CIA agent died in a helicopter crash in eastern El Salvador.
On March 31, rebels attacked the northern El Paraiso garrison, killing 70 soldiers, among them U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Gregory Fronius.
Guerrillas opened fire June 19, 1985, on an outdoor cafe in the capital and killed four U.S. Marines assigned to embassy guard duty.
On Oct. 19, 1984, four CIA workers were killed when the plane in which they were flying on a reconnaissance mission crashed.
On May 25, 1983, guerrillas shot and killed naval Lt. Comdr. Albert A. Schaufelberger III, deputy commander of the U.S. military training group, as he sat in his car at the Central American University.