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Monday January 17, 2000

Army Closes Probe of Apache Crash

WASHINGTON ( AP ) - After a months-long investigation, the Army has failed to determine what caused the fatal crash last spring of an Apache helicopter on training maneuvers in Albania, the Army said Monday.

Two soldiers killed in the accident were the only U.S. troop casualties in the NATO war against Yugoslavia.

The Apache investigation has been closed, and the cause will be listed as unknown ``due to the degree of damage sustained during the crash sequence,'' Army spokesman Col. Edwin Veiga said. In what he described as a highly unusual outcome, Veiga said investigators could find no definitive answer to what caused the crash.

On May 5, the Apache was leading a formation of five helicopters over mountainous terrain in northern Albania when its nose pitched up and the chopper rolled to the right. It fell 150 feet and exploded in flames on the ground, according to the Dayton Daily News, which obtained an Army report on the crash.

Chief Warrant Officer David Gibbs, 38, of Massillon, Ohio, and Chief Warrant Officer Kevin Reichert, 28, of Chetek, Wis., were killed.

Early indications pointed to mechanical failure, but Veiga said investigators were ultimately unable to determine a cause.

Apaches are the Army's best attack helicopters and were used extensively in the 1991 Gulf War against Iraq. Flown with a crew of two, they are armed with as many as 16 laser-guided Hellfire missiles designed to knock out tanks. In addition, they carry 70 mm rockets and a 30 mm cannon that can fire 625 rounds per minute.

More than half the Army's fleet of 743 Apaches has been grounded since last November to replace their tail rotor bearings or to replace transmission parts. The decision to ground the choppers was made when the Army determined that the tail rotor bearing was the cause of an Apache crash in January 1999.

Veiga said all Apaches deployed abroad have been repaired and returned to service. The full fleet is scheduled to be back in operation by April.

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