NATO-led forces have recovered the remains of three American military contractors -- one a Minnesota native -- from the wreckage of a U.S. Army reconnaissance plane that crashed two weeks ago in the rugged mountains of northeastern Afghanistan, the military said.
The Army C-12 Huron twin-engine turboprop had been missing since it crashed Oct. 13 while on a routine mission in Nuristan province, a stronghold of Taliban insurgents.
NATO said in a statement the incident is "under investigation, though hostile action is not believed to be the cause of the crash."
Thomas Casey, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin Corp., confirmed that those killed -- a pilot, copilot and technician -- were American citizens working for Lockheed Martin subcontractors.
The pilot, identified as Randy Bergquist, was originally from Minnesota, according to Casey. Bergquist, 53, was a former Marine, and has been a customs border protection pilot for 20 years in Jacksonville, Fla., according to an obituary in the Florida Times-Union. He is survived by a wife and son.
The three men were employed under a Lockheed Martin contract for "counter-narcoterrorism" operations, Casey said.
U.S. forces spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks said the crew were the only ones aboard when the craft went down without giving off any distress signals.
"We just lost contact," Shanks told The Associated Press.
Shanks said the plane was on a mission for NATO-led forces at the time, but he gave no other details. Casey said only that it was a surveillance mission.
Bergquist and the co-pilot worked for a Virginia-based company called Avenge Inc., while the technician, Jeff Lehner, was employed by a Nevada-based contractor called Sierra Nevada Corp., Casey said.
Lehner is from Ohio and previously served in the Air Force. The copilot's family requested that he not be identified.
The military said a UH-60 helicopter traveling to the crash site four days later "experienced a strong downdraft and performed a hard landing" nearby.
The helicopter's crew members were rescued, and the chopper was stripped of sensitive and useable parts and destroyed to keep insurgents from salvaging anything.