U.S. Helicopter Crashes Near Fallujah; 3 Wounded

A U.S. military helicopter was hit by ground fire Tuesday and forced to land, and three crew members were wounded. One Marine in a rescue squad was killed by insurgents who attacked with mortars, small arms and rocket-propelled grenades, the military said.

Insurgents said they downed the craft with a rocket-propelled grenade (search).

Lt. Col. Brennan Byrne, the Marine commander in the area, said the H-53 Sikorsky helicopter (search) went down before dawn.

"This morning a helicopter made an emergency landing due to ground fire. The attack resulted in three wounded and a quick reaction force secured the crew and the helicopter was later destroyed to prevent it from falling into enemy hands," said Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt (search), deputy chief of U.S. military operations in Iraq.

The team that extracted the Marine crew came under mortar fire and was ambushed as it pulled back by gunmen using small weapons and rocket-propelled grenades.

A Marine was killed by mortar fire, Kimmitt said. Marine spokesman 1st Lt. Eric Knapp said seven Marines were wounded in the area.

An Associated Press reporter later saw the craft burning in a field 12 miles east of Fallujah. Photos of the wreckage showed no sign of bodies.

About a dozen masked gunmen were near the wreckage, with at least one carrying an RPG launcher.

"The helicopter was passing overhead, and we happened to be hiding here. We fired an RPG at it and it fell," one of the gunmen said.

While Fallujah has been relatively calm for four days, the area between the besieged city and Baghdad has seen heavy clashes between gunmen and U.S. forces. Insurgents shot down an Apache on Sunday in nearby Abu Ghraib, killing its two crew members.

Before Tuesday's helicopter crash, a U.S. convoy was attacked near the same site, and two Humvees and a truck were burning, said witnesses, who also reported U.S. casualties.