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Subject: Remains of Six U.S. Air Force Members Killed in Helicopter Crash Leave for Home After Somber Ceremony

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Date Posted: March 25, 2003 1:11:16 EDT

In a somber ceremony Tuesday, American soldiers loaded a military plane with the bodies of six U.S. Air Force rescue team members who died in a helicopter crash while trying to reach two injured Afghan children.

Scores of soldiers, including fellow rescue teams wearing shoulder patches that read "That Others May Live," formed an aisle along a cracked tarmac as the caskets were carried into a C-17 transport plane at Bagram Air Base.

Teams of six Air Force soldiers passed by two medical helicopters sitting on a gravel offshoot to the runway as they carried the caskets, covered in American flags, into the plane.

Several members of the Air Force wiped their eyes or exchanged hugs shortly before the transport plane left for Landsthul, Germany, where the remains are to be transferred to the United States.

The HH-60G Pave Hawk rescue helicopter, from the 41st Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base in Georgia, crashed Sunday in the Afghan foothills about 20 miles north of the eastern town of Ghazni.

The crew was on its way to rescue two Afghan children with serious head injuries. It was not clear how the children had been injured, but American forces are occasionally brought in to provide emergency medical assistance to Afghan civilians.

Killed were 1st Lt. Tamara Archuleta, 23, of Los Lunas, N.M.; Staff Sgt. Jason Hicks, 25, of Jefferson, S.C.; Master Sgt. Michael Maltz, 42, of St. Petersburg, Fla.; Senior Airman Jason Plite, 21, of Lansing, Mich.; Lt. Col. John Stein, 39, of Bardolph, Ill.; and Staff Sgt. John Teal, 29, of Dallas.

The cause of the crash was being investigated, but military officials said the helicopter was not shot down. There were thunderstorms in the area at the time of the crash Sunday evening, and the Ghazni area is not known as a hostile region, officials said.

U.S. military officials in Washington and Afghanistan said the helicopter flight was not connected with Operation Valiant Strike, a mission involving members of the Army's 82nd Airborne Division in southeastern Afghanistan.

That mission, which began earlier this month, is meant to root out remnants of the al-Qaida and Taliban believed to be operating in the area.

The Air Force members who died were part of the 11,500-person U.S.-led coalition fighting terrorism in Afghanistan from headquarters at the Bagram air base.

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