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Tuesday, April 27, 1999 Published at 12:44 GMT 13:44 UK

Apache helicopter crashes in Albania

An Apache landing at Tirana's Rinas Airport

The US is investigating why a fully-armed Army AH-64 Apache attack helicopter crashed and exploded during a training operation in Albania.

Click here to watch the Apache helicopter gunship in action
An army spokesman said the state-of-the-art American aircraft was not under attack when it went down on Monday night.

The badly shaken two-man crew suffered minor injuries and were evacuated to the 212th Mobile Army Surgical Hospital at Tirana airport.

Kosovo: Special Report
Witnesses said the helicopter's tail appeared to drop moments before the crash, which was followed by a clearly visible explosion.

The area was sealed off while the thousands of rounds of ammunition and dozens of missiles on board were made safe.

[ image:  ]
A television camera crew reportedly captured the crash on film, but no footage has been made available.

The deadly attack helicopter is one of 24 sent to bolster Nato's ability to search for and destroy Serb army units in Kosovo.

It went down in an area 30 miles north of Tirana's Rinas Airport at approximately 2040 GMT while on a training rescue exercise.

The US Army refused to say whether or not the crash would delay the combat deployment of the Apache flight as the Nato campaign entered its 34th day.

Apaches earned a fearsome reputation during the Gulf War, when they were credited with destroying more than 500 Iraqi tanks as well as hundreds of other vehicles.

But concerns have been raised over use their use in Kosovo, because they are relatively slow and therefore vulnerable to shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and small arms fire.

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