All nine people on board died today as a US UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter made an emergency landing near the Iraqi town of Fallujah.

US sources said they were working on the assumption that they were all American soldiers.

The US army described the helicopter's mission as routine, and was unable to confirm military reports that the aircraft was engaged in a medical evacuation when it came down over the village of Nuamiya, west of Baghdad.

An unnamed US military spokesman had said earlier that those who died on the helicopter were 'killed in action'.

Iraqi prisoners released in Baghdad

Elsewhere, the US Army freed scores of prisoners from the Abu Ghraib prison west of Baghdad.

Most of the 60 or so released prisoners said they were looking forward to seeing loved ones.

Paul Bremer, the US administrator in Iraq, announced an amnesty for low-threat detainees yesterday, saying the military would be releasing some 500 prisoners.

But senior occupation force spokesmen was unable to confirm whether today's release was part of that process.

The Americans have detained around 9,000 Iraqis in the eight months since overthrowing the Ba'athist regime there.

Officials had said around 100 inmates would be freed today.

Two US Army trucks loaded with prisoners left what has been renamed Baghdad Central Penitentiary and appeared to make for central Baghdad.

The prisoners were driven about 2km and dropped off under a highway bridge.

Wearing civilian clothes, they shouted and cheered as they were greeted by loved ones.