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Originally published October 27, 2009 at 8:57 AM | Page modified October 27, 2009 at 12:01 PM

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3 bodies found in US plane wreckage in Afghanistan

NATO-led forces have recovered the remains of three American military contractors 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 Tuesday.

The Associated Press

KABUL —

NATO-led forces have recovered the remains of three American military contractors 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 Tuesday.

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 Taliban insurgent stronghold. The plane went down less than two weeks after insurgents overran a coalition outpost the same province, killing eight American troops in one of the war's deadliest battles for the U.S.

NATO said in a statement that the crash 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 the three dead men - a pilot, co-pilot and technician - were American citizens working for Lockheed Martin subcontractors.

They 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.

Nuristan has been the site of the two deadliest battles of the war for U.S. forces, including the Oct. 2 attack in the province's Kamdesh outpost and a July 2008 raid that killed nine American soldiers at an outpost in Wanat area.

The NATO-led mission is planning to withdraw troops such isolated strongholds to focus on more heavily populated areas as part of a new strategy to protect Afghan civilians.

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.

The pilot and co-pilot worked for a company called Avenge Inc., while the technician was employed by a contractor called Sierra Nevada Corp., Casey said.

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 in the wreckage.

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