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2 U.S. aid workers die in copter crash near Haiti

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic - A U.S.-owned helicopter involved in Haiti aid efforts crashed in the Dominican Republic, killing the two Americans on board, an official said Friday.

Pilot John Ward and co-pilot James Jalove were returning from Haiti on Thursday night when their R44 II helicopter crashed into a mountain in the western Dominican province of Dajabon, said Dominican Civil Aviation Institute spokesman Pedro Jimenez. Jimenez did not release the men's hometowns.

A firefighter at the scene, Angel Belliard, said one of the two men was dressed as a doctor and that medicine was scattered around the crash site.

U.S. Embassy spokesman David Searby said he could not confirm the crash or the reported identities and nationalities of the victims.

The helicopter was owned by JAJ Investments Limited in Naples, Fla., according to U.S. Federal Aviation Administration documents. The company could not be reached immediately for comment.

Also Friday, in Port-au-Prince an attorney for 10 U.S. Baptist missionaries who tried to take three dozen children out of the country said he would ask a judge to let his clients go free until their trial on kidnapping charges.

The investigating judge charged the Americans on Thursday with kidnapping for trying to take 33 children across the border into the Dominican Republic on Jan. 29 without documentation.

Defense attorney Edwin Coq has said that the group's leader, Laura Silsby, knew she couldn't remove the youngsters without proper paperwork, but he characterized the other nine missionaries as unknowingly being caught up.

Family members of the detained Americans released a statement late Thursday saying they were concerned about their relatives jailed in a foreign country.

"Obviously, we do not know details about what happened and didn't happen on this mission," the statement said. "However, we are absolutely convinced that those who were recruited to join this mission traveled to Haiti to help, not hurt, these children." - AP

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