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OIL LEAK, FIRE BLAMED FOR CRASH THAT KILLED 7

An oil leak and a resulting fire appear to have caused the crash of the V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft that claimed seven lives in July, the Pentagon says.The leak led to a fire, engine failure and drive shaft failure that ultimately caused the experimental aircraft to plunge into the Potomac River, the Pentagon said Tuesday.

The July 20 crash occurred as the V-22, also known as the Osprey, was switching from flying like an airplane to landing with its rotors tilted at a 60-degree angle, the statement said.

It did not make clear whether the problems arose from a flaw in the design of the aircraft or a defect in a part.

But Rep. Pete Geren, D-Texas, a leading congressional backer of the V-22, said the Pentagon findings should help the embattled program.

"Everything that this report suggests as a likely cause of the accident is something that is cor-rect-able without calling into question the tilt-rotor technology," said Geren, whose Fort Worth district is home to one of the V-22's developers, Bell Helicopter Tex-tron.

For years, the aircraft was a source of contention between Congress and Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, who had tried to kill the program since 1989.

Cheney argued the program's $30 billion cost was too expensive, but the administration now approves of spending $1.5 billion to develop the aircraft.

The Marines want 500 V-22s to replace aging Ch-46 heli-cop-ters.