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Published: Thursday January 9, 2014 MYT 7:55:02 PM
Updated: Thursday January 9, 2014 MYT 7:56:00 PM

U.S. Air Force to begin recovery of helicopter crash airmen

A Pave Hawk helicopter, military personnel and emergency services attend the scene of a helicopter crash on the coast near the village of Cley next the Sea in Norfolk, eastern England January 8, 2014. REUTERS/Toby Melville

A Pave Hawk helicopter, military personnel and emergency services attend the scene of a helicopter crash on the coast near the village of Cley next the Sea in Norfolk, eastern England January 8, 2014. REUTERS/Toby Melville

LONDON (Reuters) - The U.S. Air Force will start to recover on Thursday the bodies of four American airmen from the wreckage of a helicopter that crashed two days ago in remote coastal marshland in eastern England, British police said.

The recovery of the bodies has been delayed by the scattering of a "significant" amount of bullets and munitions after the helicopter came down in a Norfolk nature reserve while on a low-level training mission on Tuesday evening.

The site, described by police as the size of a football pitch, remains cordoned off to the public following a visit by investigators on Wednesday evening. The area of flat coastal grassland lies about 130 miles (210 km) northeast of London.

"Police and other agencies remain on scene today as the investigation continues and will ensure the recovery of the bodies is dignified and respectful," Chief Superintendent Bob Scully of Norfolk Police said in a statement.

"The scene is on difficult ground and the longer term investigation and recovery work will take many more weeks."

The helicopter was a Pave Hawk assigned to the 48th Fighter Wing based at RAF Lakenheath air base. A second helicopter taking part in the training mission landed safely.

Colonel Kyle Robinson, commander of the 48th Fighter Wing, described the accident as a "tragic loss" and said it was too soon to say why the crash happened despite speculation in the British media that birds may have been to blame.

"It is still too early to speculate as to what caused the crash and to make any long-term decisions based on that," Robinson told a news conference at RAF Lakenheath on Thursday.

The four men on board were named as Captain Christopher S. Stover, Captain Sean M. Ruane, Technical Sergeant Dale E. Mathews and Staff Sergeant Afton M. Ponce.

The Pave Hawk is made by Sikorsky Aircraft Co, a unit of United Technologies Corp.

(Reporting by Belinda Goldsmith and Costas Pitas; Editing by Gareth Jones)

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