SANTA LUCIA DI PIAVE, Italy (Reuters) - A U.S. army Black Hawk helicopter crashed in northern Italy on Thursday, killing five American military personnel and injuring the other six on board, officials said.
The helicopter, which according to Italian media was on a training mission, split into at least two pieces after crashing at 6:34 a.m. EST in a grassy field near the Italian city of Treviso.
Four of those on board were killed immediately and another died later in hospital. Two of the injured were seriously hurt.
A U.S. army spokeswoman could not confirm the nature of the mission. A statement from the headquarters of the U.S. army in Europe said the cause of the crash was unknown and that safety investigators had been deployed.
"Our deepest condolences go out to the families of the victims," the statement said.
The UH-60, attached to the 1st Battalion, 214th Aviation Regiment, flew out of the nearby Aviano air base, an important military base in Europe which deploys units to Iraq and Afghanistan, the army said.
Italian Defence Minister Arturo Parisi expressed his solidarity in a written message to U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
But the incident threw the spotlight on the often controversial U.S. military presence in Italy, where Prime Minister Romano Prodi's centre-left government has been criticized by some allies for allowing an expansion of U.S. military activities.
"It confirms that the Aviano military base, beyond being a threat to many people, is also a risk for local populations," said Severino Galante, a communist lawmaker whose party is part of Prodi's coalition.
Fire brigade officials, initially alerted to the crash by a motorist driving nearby, said they had extracted four corpses from the wreckage.
The motorist who reported the crash was passing on a nearby highway in a town called Santa Lucia del Piave. Italian officials said they reached the site quickly, allowing them to save lives.
"Our squad left in a helicopter from Venice and quickly carried out the rescue, putting out the start of a fire," said a fire brigade official. The injured were taken to hospitals nearby.
Reporting by Antonella Cinelli, Silvia Aloisi and Phil Stewart in Rome, Erik Kirschbaum in Berlin; Writing by Phil Stewart; Editing by Michael Winfrey