An Army Black Hawk helicopter that crashed last year in northern Iraq, killing all 12 aboard, does not appear to have been downed by enemy fire, according to a report obtained by The Associated Press.
The report repeatedly calls the Jan. 7, 2006 crash an accident, and said it left such catastrophic damage the precise cause remains uncertain.
The eight U.S. troopers and four American civilians aboard died instantly or shortly after impact, the report from the U.S. Army Combat Readiness Center at Fort Rucker said. The trail of debris spread the length of two football fields.
At the time of the crash, the Army said the cause was uncertain and would not be determined until the Fort Rucker team could investigate. Its report, obtained by the AP under a Freedom of Information request, blacked out numerous sections, including those dealing with its findings and conclusions.
But at one point it says: "During teardown analysis, the Board could not find any indication that the aircraft was shot down."
Lt. Col. James Langham, an FOI official at Fort Rucker, said Friday the findings and conclusions were blacked out because "they are considered privileged information and are not released outside" the Department of Defense.
Even within the department, he said, they are only released for "accident prevention purposes."
The Black Hawk was part of a two-helicopter team providing support for the 101st Airborne Division and was flying between bases when communication was lost. It crashed just before midnight about seven miles east of Tal Afar, a northern city near the Syrian border that was the scene of heavy fighting with insurgents.
According to the report, people on board the Black Hawk were using night vision goggles and the helicopter was flying through light rain. Scattered storms are mentioned, but the crew of the other helicopter on the mission said in the report that "there was no discussion of concern about weather conditions from either aircraft in the minutes preceding the accident."
The crew of the other helicopter reported seeing "a bright white flash" and then "something on the ground, like a red Roman candle with sparks."
Jeff Krausse, the father of one of the helicopter's pilots, 1st Lt. Jaime L. Campbell, said the Army told him the cause of the crash could not be determined through investigation and in such a case it is automatically ruled "pilot error."
Krausse, from Ephrata, Wash., said he doesn't believe pilot error was to blame.
"I have a really big suspicion that it was weather-related, and I question whether they should even have been flying in those conditions," he told the AP in a phone interview Friday.
He said he has spoken to other pilots about the crash and they told him it sounds like the helicopter encountered "severe wind shears."