- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 25, 2003

WASHINGTON, Feb. 25 (UPI) — All four members of a Black Hawk helicopter crew were killed early Tuesday in the crash of their aircraft during night training over the Kuwaiti desert.

It was the third fatal accident of a UH-60 Black Hawk since October 2002. Including the deaths on Tuesday, 13 soldiers have been killed in UH-60 accidents so far this fiscal year. In all the accidents, night-vision goggles were being used, the Army said.

Overall, the Army aviation accident rate is more than 40 percent higher over the past four months than the average rate during the same period over the past three years. The rise could be due to the build-up for a possible war with Iraq.

"In every major conflict since the Korean War, we have suffered more casualties due to accidents than to enemy action," said the Army Safety Center, which tracks accident data.

The helicopter was based at a camp about 30 miles northwest of Kuwait City and the night operations were conducted near the base, the Army said in a news release. The four servicemen killed were the only people on the craft.

The Department of Defense identified the victims as Spc. Rodrigo Gonzalez-Garza, 26, of Texas; Chief Warrant Officer Timothy W. Moehling, 35, of Fla.; Chief Warrant Officer John D. Smith, 32, of Nev.; and Spc. William J. Tracy, 27, of N.H.

Gonzalez-Garza and Moehling were assigned to Giebelstadt Army Air Field in Germany, while Smith and Tracy were assigned to Aviano Air Base, Italy, the Defense Department said.

The Army said the helicopter was one of two Black Hawks in night training when it went down about 1 a.m. It said an investigation into the crash was under way.

The Black Hawks are in the region as part of U.S. buildup in case of military action against Iraq, which is under scrutiny of U.N. inspectors to make sure it is in compliance with Security Council resolutions regarding weapons of mass destruction. Tuesday's crash happened less than 50 miles from the Iraq border.

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