(AP) - Enemy fire caused two U.S. Army helicopters to collide in Iraq last month, killing four American pilots from Fort Drum, officials at the northern New York military post said Friday. One of the pilots, Philip Windorski Jr., was from Bovey, Minn.
The Defense Department initially said the cause of the Jan. 26 crashes near Kirkuk didn't appear to be an attack. But on Thursday, the Army said forensic evidence revealed that the OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopters collided while evading enemy fire and crashed.
The details were announced after a memorial service for the soldiers at Fort Drum, where they were based.
"The two OH-58D helicopters were engaged and struck by hostile fire while conducting a reconnaissance mission," Fort Drum spokeswoman Julie Cupernall said Friday.
According to a report from the U.S. Army Aircraft Shoot Down Assessment Team and the Joint Combat Assessment Team, the aircraft were hit while maneuvering to evade the fire and collided, Cupernall said.
The investigation into the incident continues, she said.
A Sunni nationalist group had claimed responsibility for the attack in a posting on an extremist Web site.
The pilots were identified as Philip Windorski Jr., 35, of Bovey, Minn.; Matthew Kelley, 30, of Cameron, Mo.; Joshua Tillery, 31, of Beaverton, Ore.; and Benjamin Todd, 29, of Colville, Wash. They were warrant officers in the 10th Mountain Division's 10th Combat Aviation Brigade.
A ceremony honoring the pilots was held Thursday evening at Fort Drum, with family members and fellow soldiers sharing memories of the men. All four pilots were married and had children.
The four pilots were flying in matching two-man crews when they were fired upon about 20 miles south of Kirkuk.
The Kiowa Warrior is a small helicopter used primarily for observation and scouting missions. The two-seat helicopters can be armed with missiles and machine guns, and are typically flown close to the ground at speeds topping 100 mph.
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