BAGHDAD: British troops died yesterday when the transport plane they were travelling in crashed in central Iraq, Prime Minister Tony Blair said.

“This country and the wider world will never forget them,” Blair said in a televised speech, saying “people lost their lives”, but not specifying how many had perished or providing any other details. Sources said, however, that about 15 people died.

The Royal Air Force C-130 Hercules, which can carry up to 128 troops, went down northwest of Baghdad at 4:40 pm (1340 GMT), according to the coalition military press office in Baghdad.

Wreckage from the plane was reportedly scattered over a large area.

“We are not yet able to confirm the safety of the crew and any passengers. The cause of the crash is not yet known,” the British military in Iraq said.

It was not clear how many crew were on board the aircraft and whether it was carrying equipment or troops – the four-turboprop plane can carry a crew of five or six and up to 128 troops.

US military helicopters were at the site of crash.
Prior to the crash 75 British troops had lost their lives in Iraq in combat or accidents.

The crash came during a series of attacks aimed at sabotaging the first democratic elections in Iraq for 50 years. At least 37 people were killed and 96 others wounded in the attacks.

Earlier in Baghdad, a coalition officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the plane had been heading to Balad, which lies 70 kilometres (40 miles) north of Baghdad.

Balad houses one of the largest US airbases in Iraq and has two runways, according to Britain's Press Association newswire. Its 25-square-kilometre airfield is protected by a 20-kilometre security perimeter.

Wreckage from the cargo plane, from RAF Lyneham in Wiltshire, was scattered far and wide, the Press Association said, quoting a US military officer.