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ONLINE DOCUMENT: 17 COMMANDOS KILLED, 11 INJURED IN ARMY HELICOPTER COLLISION

SHARE ONLINE DOCUMENT: 17 COMMANDOS KILLED, 11 INJURED IN ARMY HELICOPTER COLLISION

Two Blackhawk army helicopters collided and burst into flames tonight during training exercises, killing 17 commandos in Australia's worst peacetime military accident in three decades.

Eleven others were hospitalized, some in serious condition, in Townsville, home to a large army base in the tropical northeast about 700 miles from Brisbane."We have lost 17 of our finest men," said Australian Defense Force spokesman Brig. Adrian D'Hage.

D'Hage said the two helicopters had been flying about 165 feet above the ground in darkness when they collided at speeds of 70 mph to 100 mph. Both crashed and burned, scattering debris over the hilly terrain, D'Hage said.

The number of crew and soldiers on board the craft was uncertain, with reports varying from 28 to 32. All belonged to the elite Special Air Service commando regiment.

D'Hage refused to speculate on the cause of the accident but said the crew had been using night-vision goggles to operate in the dark.

He said the two helicopters had been taking part in a twice-yearly exercise that simulates a counterterrorist attack.

The U.S.-built Sikorsky Blackhawk helicopters are used extensively by the Australian army.